Well aware that timing is everything, the Wisconsin Library Association postponed its 2011 Library Legislative Day, which had been scheduled for February 22, less than 48 hours before it was to take place.
Of course, it would have been difficult to stay focused on biennial budget issues while tens of thousands were converging on the Madison Capitol Building to defend collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees. Nonetheless, the library profession was well represented at the Capitol on February 22 as well as in the days that preceded.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve been down there from libraries of all kinds,” WLA Executive Director Lisa Strand told American Libraries, noting that the ALA chapter is asking its members to voice their opposition to the Budget Repair Bill—Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to end collective bargaining for state and local government workers. “It’s heartening to see librarians down there trying to fight this assault on public employees,” Strand said, adding, “I look forward to seeing them fight for library funding in the next budget.”
“In any community, librarians are some of your biggest advocates for people’s rights,” said Sandy Heiden, president of the Wisconsin Educational Media Association, who noted that busloads of educators have taken day trips to Madison to bolster the “organized rational protesting” going on there. Explaining that Wisconsin school librarians would be affected by any diminution of collective bargaining rights since union contracts afford them the status of classroom teachers, Heiden said she is worried whether people will choose to teach in general, and in particular, to become library media specialists in the current climate of “disrespect.” “There’s never been such a negative time to be in education,” she asserted, citing a commercial paid for by the [corrected] Wisconsin Club for Growth that admonishes public-sector unions: “It's time government employees pay their fair share.”
Whatever the outcome of the Budget Repair Bill, Wisconsin school librarians will undoubtedly regroup at the Capitol in March: WEMA holds its March 20–22 conference in Madison.
UPDATE (Feb. 24): “While governments are facing financial challenges, addressing deficits should not serve as an opportunity to strip away the hard-won right of workers to collectively bargain,” American Library Association President Roberta Stevens said in a prepared statement acknowledging the protests in Wisconsin, as well as in Michigan and Indiana where similar legislation has been introduced. “We affirm the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers, without fear of reprisal.”
Stevens also called for recognition and protection of “the value of library service and staff” as use of library resources continues to soar across the country. That value has not been lost on the people of Madison, whose Central Library is located a block away from the State Capitol. Madison Public Library’ Community Services Manager Carol Froistad told American Libraries that MPL has seen an uptick in visitors and that reference requests are peppered with questions about labor history and strife, the employment benefits received by state legislators, the exact wording of the Budget Repair Bill, and the text of the Wisconsin statute on how to recall an elected official.