Mission Critical: School Libraries More Valuable Than Communities Perceive

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Full length of a female student sitting against bookshelf and reAcross the US, schools just finished celebrating National Library Week, which took place this year from April 13-19. It’s a critical time for school libraries, as districts are scrutinizing their budgets more closely than ever before, looking for dollars to trim. Libraries may have been celebrated last week, but many library professionals believe the institutions are still underappreciated in society.

A school librarian’s mission

A column written in the Huffington Post last year by Maureen Sullivan, then-president of the American Library Association (ALA), said that school librarians do more than read to children and help them check out books—time spent in school libraries empowers “all our children to access, evaluate and use information for academic and personal learning—this is the critical mission of school libraries and librarians.”

School libraries’ place in the digital landscape

As society continues to embrace digital learning tools, libraries continue to be threatened. Rather than having an “out with the old, in with the new” mindset, library professionals argue that physical and digital learning resources can be used in conjunction to strengthen student understanding.

Sullivan was concerned that school officials may not realize how important a role libraries and librarians play in shaping a student’s ability to succeed in an increasingly digital landscape. Just a few days ago, the 2014 president of the ALA, Barbara Stripling, wrote a follow-up to Sullivan’s column. In it, Stripling writes, “we are facing a serious threat to school libraries.”

These sentiments are worrisome to school libraries, because communities might not know what they are missing. Studies have shown a definite correlation between an adequate library staff and school reading scores. According to the column, the National Center for Education Statistics found that when cuts are made to school library staff, that school reports lower reading scores, where schools who add library staff see their scores go up.

Across the country, cuts are being made to districts in several states, including New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, among others. In Los Angeles, there is a school district where students cannot check out any books because budget cuts have forced half of the district to eliminate their librarians and aides.

Importance at all learning levels

Libraries on the elementary, middle and high school levels all play a critical role in our children’s development. Sullivan detailed why our elementary school libraries are important and Stripling notes that all school librarians help prepare our children and teach them the skills they need to learn, develop their own talents and ideas and get ready for higher learning. At the college level, librarians are even more critical, because they pick up where school librarians left off and help students on the path to completing their college degrees by assisting with studying and research projects.

Each of these levels struggle to exist without the others. When one part of the library system is threatened, the entire network is weakened. College libraries, in turn, rely on elementary, middle and high school libraries because they form the bedrock of the library system. When school libraries are shuttered or see their resources cut, students who do not have experience in the library face a learning curve that others do not.

Sustainability through financial investment

Stripling asserts that “the library ecosystem must be sustained with the level of financial investment necessary to support the learning needs of everyone in the community.” But how? Librarians know full well that budget money doesn’t grow on trees.

As mentioned, there is a correlation between school libraries and student performance. By proving the value of their resources, libraries can make a case for more staffing, more resources or a budget increase. Libraries can employ data-driven technologies, such as people counting systems, that track the amount of students who use the institution’s resources. These counts can even be used in conjunction with student scores to illustrate the benefits of an adequately-staffed institution.

This data-driven approach could help libraries strengthen a districts’ position that library resources are critical and should not be cut come budget season.

Will Universities and Retailers Start Joining Forces to Stay Afloat?

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College students moving in to the university campusWhen we were in high school, applying to college was a rite of passage. Seniors would apply to two- or four-year schools and then wait for the mail every day, in anticipation of the thick envelopes that signified acceptance. Today, more high school graduates are starting to choose alternate paths. In fact, NBC News recently pointed out that college enrollments are declining.

Tuition costs rising

Tuition costs have risen exponentially since 2000, mainly because nearly every cost associated with going to college has gone up. Colleges—both public and private—find themselves spending more on research (especially at research-focused institutions), student services and instructional staff. Private universities are reporting a dip in gifts and donations, because families have been putting those funds toward paying their tuition bill instead.

Last year, NBC reported that the cost of tuition at a private college increased a mere 3.8 percent, which was considered a bargain compared to larger increases seen in previous years. And for in-state students attending public universities, they had to spend just 2.9 percent more, which was the smallest increase in more than 30 years.

Enrollments decreasing

In 2012, the number of students attending college fell by almost half a million people after more than 20 years of rising enrollment. One would think that higher learning institutions would also cut their costs to help attract new students, but it’s unlikely we will be that lucky.

The bills still need to be paid and private schools often spend more educating each student than their tuition covers, so financial contributions cover the gap. However, with less money coming from alumni donations and endowment funds, colleges need to find another way to make up the difference.

Local retailers suffering

A declining enrollment obviously impacts the university, but it also has implications for the community around the campus as well. Restaurants and stores that receive frequent patronage from the student body also lose business, which could force them to downsize or ultimately close. These businesses are already facing competition from online retailers, who make it easier than ever to purchase school supplies, clothing and even groceries, which is ideal for busy students who only have a few minutes during a study break or between activities.

These losses translate into a less vibrant community, with fewer coffee shops to study in and a smaller selection of shops and restaurants. This is especially detrimental to students who do not have cars on campus and cannot drive to alternate shopping destinations.

A possible solution: university and retail sectors merging

One community college in California, Ohlone College, has decided to launch an initiative to raise additional revenue for the school using its unused property. According to the Contra Costa Times, the school is considering leasing 15 acres of surplus land to a local developer for 90 years.  The developer would build apartments on the land that would provide a new revenue stream for the university.

The idea to build new housing on university land was born out of necessity, and as more institutions find themselves in a similar situation, we may see more of these types of projects in the future. Clearly, it’s a new way to fund the institution and maintain the retail and restaurants that serve the student body. Preserving the community surrounding a university is critical, as vibrant social centers are what help to draw new students and give the university its character, even as the pool of high school graduates shrinks.

Universities and their facility management teams can see how successful their alternative revenue streams—whether it’s new housing or another initiative—are by tracking and counting people they attract over time.  If the new housing is providing fresh revenue for the university, traffic in the neighborhood will increase.

Many colleges already employ people counting sensors and technology in their student unions, libraries and book stores. Similarly, university-owned and privately owned retailers and businesses can use people counting to see the tangible results the new housing is having on their bottom line.

Affordable Care Act Strains Already-Struggling Library Budgets

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Affordable Care Act

According to the American Library Association, there are more than 120,000 libraries in the United States. Libraries date back to 2600 BC, when resources were clay tablets written in cuneiform, one of the earliest known forms of writing – we’ve certainly come a long way since then. Today, libraries serve nearly 1.6 billion visits and lend books approximately 2.4 billion times.

A community resource

Public libraries serve as community centers for classes, book groups and students looking for a place to do research and study. They also fill a critical need in many of the communities they serve. People living at or below poverty level—mainly young adults or senior citizens—go to the library to use the Internet to search for a job, read the news, apply for government benefits or research medical care.

In fact, 62 percent of libraries cited in a recent survey say they are the only source of free Internet in town, drawing a crowd and straining the efficiency of the library’s network.

Doing more with less

The cost of running our library system, according to Forbes Magazine, is less than $50 per person each year. If the cost seems low, that’s because it is. So low, in fact, that there may not be enough money to go around very soon.

A recent column written by Carolyn Anthony, president of the Public Library Association and director of the Skokie Public Library in Illinois, helps to spotlight the financial concerns facing public libraries.

Anthony noted that people depend on their library not only for books and other written or audio/visual materials, but also as a source for information, a place to go for computer classes and get help filing government forms or pay taxes.

Despite the increased role libraries have taken on, they’re being forced to do more with less. Anthony points out that more than 40 percent of states have received less public financial support for their libraries, funding that has slipped by nearly $40 million since 2010.

Effects of the Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the nation’s health reform law enacted in March 2010 by the Obama administration. It aims to expand health coverage to 25 million Americans, increase benefits and lower costs for consumers, provide funding for public health and prevention, and support health care and public health workforce and infrastructure.

Since the creation of the ACA, libraries are seeing their resources being stretched once again. The website went live in October, so people have been heading to their local libraries in droves to use the computers to learn more about the law and apply for coverage.  Libraries have had to draw from their savings to cover the additional resources needed to meet the new demand.

The problem

In order to keep their doors open in the communities they serve, libraries need to raise additional capital in their budgets and fight the cuts that are being made on the state and federal levels.  This means additional taxes for the local towns that have to vote for the library budget, and no one is in the mood to pay more taxes right now. This is especially true of people who either don’t use the library or have only been there a handful of times.

This is a tough task—so it helps to have some hard evidence to show why you need additional funds.  Using a people counting system, and compiling accurate traffic counts of how many people are coming into the library to research the Affordable Care Act and other important information, can help justify requests for additional resources to serve these patrons.

Fighting back

This empirical evidence will show how many people the library serves and how this number has risen over the few months or years.  Once a library has an idea of how many people it has served over it a set period of time, the facility can take the data and create projections for the future, which will help bolster a case for an increase in local funding to raise additional money for the library. It will also strengthen the request on a state or federal level for additional aid, or at least fight against proposed cuts.

How to Use People Counting Technology to Improve Facility Management

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Ecology concept with electric plug

You don’t need to be a hardcore environmentalist to know that cutting your energy costs is good and reducing your carbon footprint is even better. Don’t get us wrong, we love the Earth, but investing large amounts of money in fancy eco-friendly technology and sustainable practices is counterproductive if these measures are not implemented for maximum positive impact.

Why go greener?

Commercial property owners and facility managers looking to make green changes to their buildings should be commended. Why?

1. Keep costs low

Many budget-conscious businesses increasingly want to monitor their energy consumption so they can better control both usage and cost. Monitoring energy intake is good for everyone—it helps keep costs down and reduces the strain on aging power grids, which are consistently overtaxed in the summer to the point of brownouts—or worse—total outages.

2. Attract likeminded consumers

Green businesses appeal to people who care about the environment and want to promote a healthy lifestyle, so they tend to attract patrons looking for all of the amenities of a standard business, plus additional options that focus on enhancing comfort and energy savings in an environmentally conscious setting.

3. Stand for something

Today’s consumers – especially the younger crowd – are becoming more and more concerned with environmental causes and they want their favorite brands to share their values. Your green efforts could be the reason they choose to support your business over your competitor’s.

Can your building do all of that? If the answer is yes, you’re in good shape, but don’t get your hopes up. Without the proper technology to tell you how many people are coming and going and what times the building is at maximum capacity, you probably won’t see the promised savings.

How to optimize your facility

Thermal people counting sensors provide accurate readings of the number of people who enter different areas of the building every day. These sensors are more accurate then motion detectors and they don’t make distracting sounds as people pass by.

1. Energy

Knowing how many people come in each area of your building will help you determine which sustainable practices you want to continue and pinpoint where you are wasting money. Overhead sensors such as video imaging people counters or thermal people counting systems will tally how many people occupy the spaces in your property and at what times—which is especially useful when creating estimates for energy consumption and related expenses.

2. Heating and cooling

One of the larger expenditures a property owner has is heating and cooling. Maintaining a base building temperature so the pipes don’t freeze in the winter is smart, but blasting heat at all hours of the day is a poor decision. In addition to providing tenants with optimum temperatures, a central management system can be set according to your sensor data, which helps save energy by avoiding the over-heating or over-cooli

3. General usage

This data can also be used to create a detailed history of each area of the building and track how usage has risen or fallen over time. This will allow you to see the performance of your sustainable technologies and ensure that you are making smart investments.

For example, if your tracking system shows that less employees are coming to work on Fridays in the summer but you see that your energy usage has remained the same or gone up, you may want to take a closer look at those spaces and see if the technology—LED light bulbs, low-flow toilets or less air conditioning usage—are really paying off.

If you determine that those improvements aren’t performing as they are supposed to, then it’s time to reallocate those resources and make eco-friendly choices that will have a more tangible effect.