Retire the Phrase “Doing More With Less”

I know there have been other previous takedowns of the oft repeated phrase “doing more with less” within library circles, but I think I’ve finally hit my own limit. The tipping point came while I was reading this wonderful little blog post “The Hidden Suffering of ‘Good Librarian Syndrome’” when I actually started thinking about the phrase. It’s been a mantra that has been mindlessly and mistakenly uttered in talking about library and budget cuts, but I don’t think anyone has considered the actual implications of what it actually means.

Let’s consider for a moment an hypothetical example of ‘doing more with less’. Imagine you had a pizza (an excellent food choice stand-in for money and budgets) that was cut into eight equal slices in order to feed eight people. Now, because belt tightening, four of those slices were taken away. So, what are your options? You could feed four of the eight people (“doing less with less”); cut those four slices in half so as to feed all eight (“doing the same with less”); or you could cut those remaining pieces twice into twelve sliver pieces so as to feed eight plus another four people (“doing more with less”). In my mind, that last option is the simplest example I can think of in which the end result adheres with the conditions contained within the phrase “doing more with less”. In that situation, it really begs the question as to what those remaining slices look like and if anyone eating them actually feels like they are getting a proper meal.

At one glance, it sounds like our own feeding the multitude moment where librarians are able to provide more (more what? more of everything!) with the resources that we have been allotted. It’s like being MacGyver, except instead of turning a tent into a hang glider we say we can make it into a jet. Budgets are down, but programs and services (and whatever you can think of) are up! All because the community needs us and, as our respective deities/the universe as our witness, we are going to be there to provide.

Provide what? More! With what? Less. Makes sense, right?

From this arises a series of questions that is generates: if you can do more with less, how much less do you need to maintain what you have now? And what were you doing with the “more” you had before? What would a budget restoration mean under this “doing more with less” concept?

Unless someone can unequivocally demonstrate how “doing more with less” is a good thing (which I doubt highly), I think librarians should drop the phrase from their lexicon forever. It does nothing but cover up the real hurt of what budget cuts mean for our communities; because less is less and spinning it into some kind of positive helps no one.

Let’s not kid ourselves anymore on this one.

(h/t: Laura Botts for sharing the blog post on FriendFeed)

15 thoughts on “Retire the Phrase “Doing More With Less”

  1. If there is one thing librarians love it’s being a martyr. Just see what happens when one or more get together and see how much joy they get out of playing “Who Has It Worse?”

    • There is the idea that the tireless civil servant is somehow an ideal, but I wouldn’t guess as to how many people actually feel that way.

      • I think you see it more with the “Higher Calling” types in libraries. You see this sort of thing with some individuals in social justice groups a lot. The greater the suffering, the more dedicated you are to the cause. It’s mostly egoism.

        I am the only librarian at a non-profit organization and I was approached about doing a Big Read program. Wouldn’t that look AMAZING if I could pull it off by myself? Look at me! Look at all of the things I’m doing with no staff or budget! But reality is that I simply DO NOT have the time to dedicate to this sort of thing alone, so it would be half-assed or not as good as it should be. Who does this hurt? Everybody. Just so I can say that “I did it! I’m amazing! Look at me!” It’s ego masking as dedication and it hurts us all.

  2. I’m fine with cutting fat from budgets, but there hasn’t been all that much fat anyway. And I am sick unto death with people believing I can just make fewer photocopies (like I’m printing stacks of junk anyway), to free up money to buy more books or something. (A ream of paper at Wal-mart is about $2.50. The average paperback is about $10 now. Gas is up, so even paying for that for an author can be prohibitive. Need a new trashcan? How about a leftover box from collection development?) Things aren’t that bad at my library. Yet. But I completely agree that trying to do more and more with less and less leaves no one feeling satisfied.

  3. I get what you’re saying here. There’s no reason to add services when the funding and/or staff time isn’t there, thus making the public think we don’t deserve to be funded. But I don’t see it as martyrdom when the public thinks we get paid $40 to sit at our desks and talk to each other all day (real comment I saw on a library expansion news story). I’d like people to know just how much I do at the wage I get paid with the resources I have.

  4. I’m working my first job out of library school and when I saw the job description (on my first day of work I might add), thought “ok that’s a lot but I can do it!” Several months in I’m realizing that there is no possible way that I can do just what’s written on paper, let alone all of the other committee work, special projects, and professional development expected of me and work less than 80-100hrs a week. At a conference recently I heard similar stories from every librarian I spoke with. BUT we all keep doing it anyways. I don’t know if it’s martyrdom or just fear of losing a job, but we do need to stand up and say enough is enough.

  5. I don’t think “doing more with less” is a good thing. It’s a “buck up,” “hang in there,” and “make lemonade out of lemons” thing. Budgets and staff have been cut, and neither are coming back. But at the same time, it’s easier to leverage new technologies, back to this “library 2.0″ concept, to get stuff done. It’s easier to promote, linking blogs to Facebook and Twitter, and scheduling postings and tweets, for example. It’s easier to batch process now than it was 10 years ago.

  6. One thing I feel that I encounter all the time is the line between NOT doing more with less (i.e. not trying to push yourself and your library too far with too little funding) and just plain not working that hard. Perhaps this is unfair of me, but I’ve certainly encountered people in various work situations who just weren’t pulling their weight. They weren’t interested in trying new things because they were always afraid it would add too much work to their load. I understand not wanting to be used like a pack mule, but if it holds you and your library back, where is the benefit there?

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