Our greatest advantage … it’s free … and it’s disappearing

Free Library of Philadelphia

Free Library of Philadelphia

The pub­lic library is the most pow­er­ful and cost-effec­tive wealth-trans­fer mech­a­nism ever invent­ed. Instead of sim­ply ame­lio­rat­ing prob­lems, libraries cre­ate opportunity.”

Now the librar­i­ans and library patrons in New York City are get­ting mad. Maybe that will inter­est the news media enough to pay attention.

The City of New York is about to cut the bud­get of the New York Pub­lic Library Sys­tem by $37 mil­lion. Author T.J. Stiles makes an elo­quent argu­ment in The New York Observ­er, stat­ing what many read­ers already know. Libraries are the sin­gle-most pow­er­ful tool for any­one who wants infor­ma­tion, sup­port, edu­ca­tion, access … and it’s free.

Cities are try­ing to get bud­gets in line with their reduced cir­cum­stances. It’s pri­mar­i­ly social and human ser­vices that are being cut and that’s where libraries fall. The New York Times shows how the pro­posed bud­get cuts will affect a neigh­bor­hood. Par­ents are deeply con­cerned. After-school, day­care, art, music, sports, sum­mer edu­ca­tion, and health pro­grams may dis­ap­pear. As one wor­ried moth­er of a 14-year-old said, “My heart will not be still,” she said. “Maybe [my son] can go to the library. If the library is still open.”

This is not news to any­one in small towns and coun­ties across Amer­i­ca. We have been fret­ting for years over the dis­ap­pear­ance of pub­lic libraries. Par­ents, grand­par­ents, chil­dren, and busi­ness own­ers have become advo­cates to re-open closed libraries in many munic­i­pal­i­ties. And still gov­ern­ing bod­ies don’t understand.

Nei­ther do school boards who are feel­ing the same pres­sures to live with­in their reduced means. They’re cut­ting edu­ca­tion­al spe­cial­ists, none of them unnec­es­sary. Read­ing, music, art … chil­dren need these skills as bad­ly as they need math and sci­ence. An inte­grat­ed edu­ca­tion cre­ates a whole per­son, a car­ing cit­i­zen, a respon­sive adult. But the librar­i­ans, those who are trained to help us access knowl­edge, they are the part of the Venn dia­gram that inter­sects with all of the oth­er spheres.

A Nation Without School Librarians

A Nation With­out School Librarians

Yet, as reflect­ed in this map, “A Nation With­out School Librar­i­ans,” dis­cov­ered by mem­ber Lois Thomp­son Bartholomew, more red and blue mark­ers are crop­ping up week­ly. The mark­ers reflect school dis­tricts that have fired their cer­ti­fied school librar­i­ans or have them run­ning between two or more schools.

Sure­ly you remem­ber how com­fort­ing it was to know that you could walk into your school library at any time dur­ing the school day and have your ques­tions answered.

School library clos­ings are not new. We’ve been hear­ing about them for nine years at least. Small­er towns closed their libraries first, believ­ing that a car could take library patrons to the near­est larg­er town. We’ve heard about den­tist offices and bus depots and gro­cery stores in those same towns putting up a few shelves where peo­ple can drop off books they’ve fin­ished read­ing and some­one else can pick them up and take them home, hope­ful­ly to return them lat­er. That’s all well and good, but what if you need to know some­thing? How will you find it? Google and Byng will not solve all your prob­lems. (I know, I’ve tried.)

Maybe if New York gets upset about this, library clos­ings will final­ly earn more than a small news tid­bit on an inte­ri­or page in a dis­ap­pear­ing newspaper.

If you aren’t doing some­thing about library clos­ings, it’s time. Start attend­ing city and coun­ty gov­ern­men­tal meet­ings, school board meet­ings. Make sure you know if library clos­ings are being dis­cussed. Become an advo­cate, start a fundrais­er, take a librar­i­an to lunch and lis­ten. You’re a read­er. You need libraries.

And you can do something.

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