QandANJ “Fact” Sheets and Forced Choices: A response

In reading through the State Library’s “Fact Sheet” on QandANJ today my first thought was of President Obama, using his precious time — time which could clearly be used for some productive purpose — calling a press conference to refute the “facts” being presented that he was not born in Hawaii.

I breathe deeply and repeat to myself: “I will not get sucked into refuting each and every mis-statement, falsehood, and twisting of the truth. It would not be a good use of my energy.”  I will only hit on a few (and then try to stick to the big picture.)

So let’s start with a look at this quote from the Fact Sheet:

“When we realized there wasn’t enough federal funding to continue the program we couldn’t immediately discuss this with the library community because LibraryLinkNJ requested a three-month block of time starting April 1 to confidentially speak to program participants and conduct an orderly shut down of the program. Had we heard from the federal government sooner there would have been a larger window of time and we could have held discussions, but that was not the case.”

On it’s face, and without comment, this statement is at best, nonsense. At worst it’s an untrue declaration. Which is it?  Nonsense or Untruth??  Now that is an unpleasant choice isn’t it?  But ask yourself seriously, does the statement above get within a mile of passing the smell test?

Speaking of unpleasant choices, boy has the State Library laid a doozie on us!  And to make sure we didn’t miss it, they even put it in bold!

“So the choice had to be between RefUSA/EBSCO or QandANJ.”

Not for nothing, but when the State Library announced on April 4th that QandANJ was ending on June 30th and offered no decent reason I turned to a coworker and said, “If anyone questions it they’ll just say it was a choice between databases and QandANJ.”  I’m not a brilliant prognosticator, but really, where else could they go?  And now here we are a full 24 days later and all of a sudden there’s a reason, an actual reason, that QandANJ has to got to go.  All of a sudden we’re told that there’s no money next year, so it was either databases (a benefit for libraries, and something we won’t live without), or QandANJ (a benefit for our customers, and something we could clearly live without.)  Tough choice!

Let’s have another smell test shall we?  If in fact this is THE NEW REAL REASON for the death of QandANJ, isn’t it a rather significant reason, and one that would have been mentioned in the original email notice? Or wouldn’t it at least be mentioned the day after the original notice?  Or the 2nd day after that? Or the 3rd day after that?  Nope.  But now suddenly 24 days later, someone at the State Library realized that–oops! we forgot to mention the REAL reason we’re killing QandANJ, and they trot out this silly forced choice between QandANJ and databases; this forced choice between ice cream and going to our rooms without dinner.  We’ll take ice cream thank you!

More forced choices:  The State Library has repeatedly referenced a survey from last year wherein librarians ranked QandANJ as a low priority.  Ladies and Gentlemen I was there at the time, pointing out that made no sense to include QandANJ (a service to customers, staffed by librarians) in a forced ranking with services TO librarians (databases, delivery, etc.) It made no sense then to compare apples to oranges, and it makes no sense now.  It tells us nothing that we rated a service that benefits someone else as a lower priority than services that benefit us — especially when we were all looking down the barrel of some seriously scary budget cuts at the time.

In fact, there WAS a legitimate apples to apples survey in 2007 (reported in “New Jersey State Library – Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Five-Year Plan – October 1, 2007 – September 30, 2012 “) that asked NJ librarians to “indicate how well a variety of services met the needs of New Jersey residents.  The results?

Respondents gave JerseyCat a 4.16 rating (Again with 5 meaning that the service meets the needs of New Jersey residents “very well.”) While ratings for a variety of other statewide services were a bit lower, most were still well above the mid-point of the scale, indicating that respondents believe the services are meeting the needs of library users. For example, the Q&A NJ program rated 3.88; technology support services was rated at 3.85; the New Jersey Trustee Institute at 3.75; and the portal aspect of the JerseyClicks program garnered a 3.40 rating.

Goodbye technology support services, goodbye Trustee Institute, Goodbye JerseyClicks!!  QandANJ was ranked ahead of all y’all.

Presenting limited forced choices like this is how adults speak to children, not how adults speak with adults.  It’s not how colleagues speak with colleagues.  I find it more than a bit insulting to be presented with such a ridiculously manufactured “choice”. There are clearly more than two choices in any adult conversation about spending priorities. There are a variety of choices, with upsides and downsides. But I will acknowledge that we in the library community are not well positioned to discuss and evaluate those choices for one very obvious and disturbing reason:  The State Library does not share their actual budget information with us.


Budgets are tricky things, and can be hard to understand and interpret. But we as a professional community can’t begin to have an informed discussion about difficult choices when we only have cherry picked budget information fed to us.  There’s a certain amount of deja vu all over again happening because for years the State Library has been repeatedly asked to share copies of the State Library, Library Network and LSTA budgets and has failed to do so.  I’ll ask again. Show us the budgets so we can answer some questions for ourselves. Questions such as:

  • Four Regions were consolidated into one, but there has been no cut to the Network line. How much money was saved? Where has that money gone?
  • How much Network money is being sat on?
  • QandANJ has always been paid out of last year’s federal money.  How much federal money are you currently sitting on?
  • How much state money do you have, how much are you sitting on?
  • How is all this money being allocated?  Why do databases need to come out of federal money?

I repeat, without answers to these questions we cannot have an informed discussion.  Since Norma Blake has raised the issue of budgetary constraints, I call on her to share all of the budget numbers in an open and honest fashion.  This is public information after all, and I suppose it’s accessible through an Open Public Records Act request, but should that be necessary?

Is it unreasonable to ask that our State Library share basic, factual, public data that we can use to create informed opinions about library service spending priorities?  Let us see the whole budget.  Short of that, these “fact sheet” numbers lack any credibility and cannot serve as the basis of a constructive dialogue.

[paragraph deleted 4/29, 6:23 AM]

“Fact Sheets” do not change the fact that prior to issuing their decree, the State Library utterly failed to inform or seek input from the Library Network Review Board (LNRB), LibraryLinkNJ, or any of the participating libraries that have invested hundreds of thousands of hours of their time in developing, improving, and providing this service.  Fact Sheets do not change the fact that the State Library went far beyond their proper purview (declining to fund a project), and assumed the right to declare it, simply, dead.  Fact sheets do not change the fact that the State Library did not seek out the counsel of their library partners and say, “what can we put together here?” by way of trimming costs or finding alternate funding models for a valued library service– a valued brand that took years to create.  There was no discussion, no creative attempt to save, only to end the service.

Together (“All Together Now“, right?) let’s talk about whether QandANJ is worth saving. Let’s extend its life a few months (surely there is a little money for that), put a task force together to evaluate the facts, and make a recommendation. If it is worth saving, let’s find a way to save it.  If not, let’s give it an honorable ending.  But we MUST have an open and honest discussion about it, free from intimidation, and deceit, and decide as a community what our priorities are for library services in New Jersey.  And let’s not forget or take lightly that there are real people, real customers who are going to be directly affected by the choices we make.