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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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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