(Due to a family emergency Iza Cieszynski was unable to complete her President's Column. Morel Fry, President--Elect, graciously stepped in.)

Here we are again-the fall season! As usual, it has come around very quickly. From our days as school children, this season is always a time of transitions, of change, of new beginnings. Vacations are over; perhaps our weather will start turning cooler; our students have returned to school. It's a good time to re-group and re-start all those projects, which we put off during the warm days and summertime play. And, it's a time to meet new challenges.

Unfortunately, this fall of 2002 many of us are facing unexpectedly daunting challenges in our budgets. By the time you read this, the Governor's recommendations will have been published, and the legislature will be going into session. I hope you have taken a proactive position and have contacted your legislators and the governor and reminded them how important your library is to your community, schools, and colleges, and to the state as a whole. Have you gotten your patrons to write and made sure our voice is heard? It's not too late to do so now! We must continue to articulate the story of libraries and remind our citizens of their value.

But this column isn't so much about that advocacy as it is a reminder to you today about the importance of your Virginia Library Association in these times of declining budgets.

We may sometimes look at our membership and attendance at the annual conferences and other meetings as costs which are difficult to support during hard times; we may sometimes find them hard to support in our own budgets or in our libraries' budgets. But I believe that these costs and continued attendance become even more justified during hard times. A strong professional association provides us with an effective voice to tell the library's stories. Our association gives us a vehicle for communicating with each other-sharing effective solutions and creative ideas to the issues that challenge us.

Thanks to the Virginia Library Association, we have access to training and ideas about new ways of doing things. The Annual Conference, the Paraprofessional Conference, the regional programs, and all the specialized programs offered by VLA's sections and forums provide us with information about the newest technology, the latest services, and the most efficient and effective ways to provide our essential services. These programs are available to our members at a fraction of the cost of many continuing education opportunities-many of which may now be beyond the reach of state-supported budgets.

Your professional association offers you a voice in your professional community-and in your service community. When you need to speak as an advocate for your library, you are not alone in your city, facing its citizens. You are backed by VLA and the information it can provide you through its surveys on salaries, cooperative studies, and member research. Through its Web site, VLA provides information for you to use in effectively demonstrating library budget needs, new program proposals, and patron service requirements.

Even more importantly, your fellow members can give advice on programs and services. What worked? What didn't work? How were funds used most effectively? What was persuasive to the university administration? To the city council? To the school board? How did you cut costs and still provide a quality program? Your best ideas can come from another librarian who faced a similar situation.

During tight economic times, libraries historically have become even more visible to members of the community. People come to the library in greater numbers for information, entertainment, and guidance when other options become more expensive. We want them to come, and we want to find ways to serve them well during challenging times. Our library friends can help us find these ways.

I believe that the most important benefit your Virginia Library Association can offer you during these challenging times is a real support system. Its members are the people who understand what you are going through, who will listen to your budget woes and tell you theirs. They won't necessarily have the answers, but they will understand the difficulties, and that can often be the biggest comfort. Answers will -follow.

Yes, these are challenging times. But we are truly fortunate to have a strong library association that will speak for us and continue to help. This is a time to work together and create wonderful new opportunities for our libraries to provide effective programs, services, and resources to the people of Virginia.