April 11, 2017

Unionized librarians herald public libraries in national week of celebration

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
bookmobile
Caption: The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is hailing a new vehicle for the beloved Bookmobile, which is returning to the scene with a new, custom-designed vehicle “tricked out” with wi-fi, laptops, a pop-out awning for outdoor programming and American With Disabilities compliant access. Photo provided.

If you want to pull off an inside job at the library, be prepared for more than the high stack of books you are expecting. You will find continuing education courses, free music downloads, digital magazines, movie nights, defensive driving classes, study groups, English language learning groups, book clubs, Makerspace, archives, recording studios, museum passes, computers, special collections, rare books, concerts, author visits, Alzheimer’s support groups and, oh yes, hip new bookmobiles in some communities.

All of this richness is being heralded for National Library Week April 9-15, which has a 2017 theme “Libraries Transform.”

In addition to all that’s inside library buildings, many communities have library-on-wheels to bring services to people at festivals or for those who live in remote areas or in nursing homes. But first, cast aside your old images of lumbering bookmobiles. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is hailing a new vehicle for the beloved Bookmobile, which is returning to the scene with a new, custom-designed vehicle “tricked out” with wi-fi, laptops, a pop-out awning for outdoor programming and American With Disabilities compliant access.

“Book and media shelving is built into the rather roomy interior, allowing for easy browsing and checkout. The compact size allows it be driven by the librarian, rather than someone with a commercial license,” said Marguerite Cheman, president of NYSUT-affiliated Libraries Association union at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, where she is manager of special collections of the 37-branch library system. “It’s able to go to more locations that a large truck could.”

west seneca library
A 1950s-era mobile library in West Seneca. Photo provided. 

Staff of the library's graphics department designed the bold and bouncy exterior of this sleek white bookmobile, painted with lime green, purple and orange circles, along with pictures of patrons.

Some public libraries are also home to unionized staff, which means better wages and working conditions, support, and a committed group of librarians who advocate for more funding for library funding.

“Recently, members of our union took a bus trip to Albany, and met with representatives concerning more help from them for the public libraries of New York,” said Robin La Bohm, circulation desk supervisor at Shelter Rock Public Library, where she is president of the Shelter Rock Library Public Staff Association, a NYSUT affiliate.

Most everyone who reads, whether they are mesmerized by fiction for young children or studying how-to books for adults, knows about the power of wishes.

“One wish I have for public libraries is more state aid and grants,” said La Bohm. “Our library is a busy library for all ages.”

“What is the one wish I have for public libraries? Funding!” said Cheman. “It always comes back to funding, so we can continue to give to our community all the services the community demands. Libraries are champions of life-long learning, integral to a healthy community, and need to be sustainable long into the future! There are always some people who say we don’t need libraries anymore - but I think many do understand and appreciate the value of public libraries, and all kinds of programs, along with a fantastic staff,” she said.

Having a unionized staff helps on many levels, she said.

“We have a relatively small membership – around 120 members. But I think joining NYSUT made us stronger, with access to more resources to better represent our members. The union gives us a greater voice in our organization, with the expectation of and the means to ensure reasonable and equitable treatment,” Cheman said.

Cheman is excited about many of the opportunities offered to library patrons, including Launch Pad Maker Space, an area in the library for hands-on creativity and innovation with 3-D printing, augmented reality books, a recording studio and a green screen.

With good weather ahead, the Bookmobile will be busy. As manager of special collections, it wasn’t difficult for Cheman to dig out the sepia photo of the hefty 1950s era Bookmobile this new set of hot wheels replaces.