As a boy, I walked to our local public library at least once a week to check out the latest Boy’s Life or BMX Plus magazine or to “research” my next archeological dig. (Indiana Jones was a childhood hero.) It provided me an opportunity to really “self-pace” my education. My local public library filled a critical element of my education and upbringing.
During the campaign, I have visited with many public librarians and libraries. Each librarian has expressed concern to me of continuing budget cuts for them. And rightly so. I have expressed to them my support and their priority to me.
As reported in an article in the Iowa Independent, our public libraries face a “perfect storm.”
Recession has driven Americans to their local libraries in record numbers, and throughout the nation more citizens believe their library improves the community’s quality of life. Yet, even while patron numbers soar and more people seek the free resources offered by local libraries, funding continues to lag.
From a survey by Harris, “Sixty-eight percent of the employed adults surveyed reported using their library in 2009, as did 62 percent of the unemployed adults and 53 percent of the retired adults. Eighty percent of people 18-24 years old, 73 percent of those 35-44, and 70 percent of those 25-34 years old used their library in the past year.”
So while more people employ the public library than ever, the budgets for those libraries continue to receive less and less priority in state budgets.
As many of our friends and family seek new employment opportunities, our public libraries also provide a critical element for adult new skill development. The American Library Association reports:
As the recession that took hold in December 2007 drags on into 2010, Americans are turning to their libraries in ever larger numbers for access to resources for employment, continuing education, and government services. The local library, a traditional source of free access to books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, has become a lifeline, offering technology training and workshops on topics that ranged from résumé-writing to job-interview skills.
The data supports these claims as well.
Two-thirds of public libraries help patrons complete online job applications; provide access to job databases and other online resources (88 percent) and civil service exam materials (75 percent); and offer software or other resources (69 percent) to help patrons create resumes and other employment materials.
Considering Alabama ranks 49th in internet connectivity, our public libraries provide the only access to the internet for many rural children and families.
the Internet thrives at public libraries, which have seen double-digit growth since 2007 in the on-line services they make available to their patrons. More than 71 percent of public libraries provide their community’s only free public access to computers and the Internet, according to an article in the November 2009 issue of American Libraries. The number of libraries offering homework resources in 2009 was almost 80 percent, while 73 percent offered audio content, 62 percent virtual reference, 55 percent e-books, and 51 percent video content.
Novelist Karin Slaughter penned this wonderfully stated appeal for public libraries in the Atlanta-Journal. She wrote:
This is a quantifiable fact: There is a direct correlation between the rate of literacy in a nation and its success.
This is why the funding of American libraries should be a matter of national security. Keeping libraries open, giving access to all children to all books is vital to our nation’s sovereignty. For nearly 85 percent of kids living in rural areas, the only place where they have access to technology or books outside the schoolroom is in a public library. For many urban kids, the only safe haven they have to study or do homework is the public library. Librarians are soldiers in the battle for our place in the world, and in many cases they are getting the least amount of support our communities can offer.
We need to shift our national view of libraries not as luxuries, but as necessities. When tragedy strikes in other nations, Americans are generous, but our libraries are being hit with a tsunami and there has been no call to action. Staffs are being fired. Hours are being cut. Doors are being closed. Buildings are being razed. Kids are being left behind. Futures are being destroyed.
Libraries are the backbone of our educational infrastructure, and they are being slowly broken by bankrupt municipalities and apathetic politicians. As voters and taxpayers, we have to demand that our local governments properly prioritize libraries. As charitable citizens, we must invest in our library down the street so that the generations serviced by that library grow up to be adults who contribute to not just their local communities, but to the world.
With the downfall of the public library, our local communities fall as well. As penned by T.S.Eliot:
When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?
For me, the public library provides one of the last vestiges of community gathering and congregation. In an age wherein we huddle in our houses, the public library provides an opportunity for unplanned, unhurried interaction and conversation with our neighbors. The library extends community to us.
As the author wrote: Let’s fight for our public libraries; let’s fight for our communities.