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What’s it worth to you?

I gave myself a few days on this issue to let the flavors mellow. It’s Saturday morning, it’s been a good week at My Place Of Work, it’s been a good if challenging personal week (Lil’ Brown-nose co-presented on research methods to her MFA lit class, and they loved it) and I’m ready to tackle this topic with some grace and humor.

Here’s what happened–names munged to protect the guilty. Last November, Very Big Library (not in Bay Area or Peninsula, btw) invited MPOW to do a one-hour presentation for VBL’s staff. Oh, we love you, they’d learn so much, we’ve heard it’s great staff development, etcetera.

MPOW loves to give these talks, and does them often. Ms. Boss thrives on a good crowd and loves to interact with her peers. MPOW never charges for in-state presentations and it’s always a Really Big Shoe, as Ed Sullivan said–one not limited to basic use of MPOW but far-ranging toward blogging and RSS and usability and marketing, oh my. So MPOW said oh indeedy, let’s!

The Thursday before Christmas, MPOW learned that the budget news for the following year might be bad. (5 p.m. that Thursday, just in case you wondered.) The bad budget news arrived February 24. Since then, Ms. Boss has been very busy adjusting MPOW to the new reality, developing revenue models, working with stakeholders to get said models approved, planning to implement steep cuts on July 1(including her own hours)… all part of the job.

Two weeks ago VBL reminded MPOW of the presentation and added a nice note that VBL was sorry about MPOW’s budget situation. MPOW thanked VBL, then added that due to the new budget situation, MPOW had to pass along travel costs on these talks. It would be a day trip, MPOW said, with the costs kept to the absolute minimum.

When charging, Ms. Boss does not even pass along mileage to the airport, the cost of the half-caff grande low-fat caramel macchiato she will get before boarding Southwest, or that lame salad she will gobble down at 1 p.m. while waiting to fly home. MPOW does not charge for the time spent presenting to staff, or travel time, or preparing for the presentation. If it’s local, MPOW just takes the whole Really Big Shoe out of her hide–time that simply gets absorbed in longer work days.

But MPOW can no longer afford to absorb all costs associated with presentations. Financially, as VBL observed, MPOW is on the ropes.

VBL cancelled the presentation.

I’m bothered by this in two directions. I’m bothered to learn almost by accident how little this library thinks of my organization’s time and talents. I’m also bothered that VBL thinks so poorly of its own staff that out of its immense budget it cannot cough up a round-trip ticket on Southwest, the Greyhound bus of airlines, for a morning of staff training that earlier was so important to VBL. In other words, that’s how much the staff isn’t worth to VBL: one round-trip ticket on Southwest. (Oh, o.k., and six hours of parking at San Jose Airport.)

Here’s one more tidbit. In fact, MPOW has presented to some of VBL’s staff, in other venues. Ms. Boss’s assessment is that the staff at this library would greatly benefit from as much staff development they can get, particularly in the area of new technologies. VBL should be investing in them. To paraphrase an observation of Roy Tennant’s from some time ago, all too often we take the most expensive resource in any library (staff) and invest in them the least.

Oh, and thank you to all the libraries that have stepped up to cover MPOW’s travel costs for these presentations. I know you’re on tight budgets–but where MPOW is now puts new meaning to the word “tight.” We’re all in this together.

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