12 April 2010

Our Endangered Libraries

National Library Week - April 11, April 17

We are all now familiar (overly) with the trite and banal phrase, "There's good news, and there's bad news".

When I read that the recession( yes dear ones...since December 2007, it's official!) is causing many to rediscover the library as an affordable (free) alternative, I also cringed inwardly with the knowledge that libraries are tax dependent and in a recession tax revenues decline sharply.  Even with volunteers, gifts and donations, public libraries must have a steady flow of tax dollars in order to survive.

But, there are even greater threats to the continued existence of libraries:

1) We're into the third generation of age-cohorts of non-readers, parents whose parents raised them without a book in the house are raising their children without a book in the house or Saturday morning trips to the library.

2)  E-books essentially render moot a library as a repository of information or resource for literature.  In a way, they eliminate the middle-man and make unnecessary print-on-paper media such as books, magazines and newspapers.  Without those core "products" libraries could become irrelevant.

 3)  Libraries are one of the primary targets of the anti-tax crowd who abhor and tag any sort of intellectual pursuit as elitism and the "free" loaning of books, DVDs and the like as part of a socialistic anti free-market agenda.

Already beleaguered with these harsh realities, public libraries will not survive the added blow of severely reduced funding from taxes.  They will not.  Ask any librarian.

I find the situation tragic, and do not think that is merely the angst of an old-timer damning the modern age and yearning for the past.  I just do not think libraries are irrelevant.  Indeed, I think they are increasingly relevant in an age of disconnect, ignorance, hatred and violence.  Libraries hold the antidotes to such fear-based thinking and emotions.

Today's libraries are brilliantly positioned to serve a wider purpose than merely the lending of ink-on-paper media.  They provide DVDs, videos, computers with web access, meeting rooms, discussion groups, and, in the more enlightened areas of this country, they have coffee bars where one can sit, sip a latte' and kvetch with strangers about world events--and break down barriers and enrich one's understandings!

As a weird combination of gym rat and library geek, I, found safe harbor in libraries during my storm-buffeted adolescent years.  It was in libraries that I enriched my mind, my soul, my very being and future manhood, with all the classic stories for youth.  I read books that helped shape my values and world outlook.  Writers like Albert Payson Terhune taught me about the wisdom, and strength, and love of animals.  Edgar Rice Burroughs gave me insight into selfless bravery and indefatigable courage. 

I would come sweaty and tired from hours of YMCA basketball or sandlot baseball to the cool sanctum of the library to be transported to worlds of adventure and higher purpose far away from the realities of the refineries and mills of my small Midwestern town.

It was a librarian who gave me one of life's richest lessons.  I went to her to turn in a book within a day of checking it out and she asked me if I had read it so soon.  I told her that I had tried it, but that I just did not like it.

She smiled and said, "No, I'll not take it back until you have read at least the first 51 pages".

Annoyed and greatly put upon, I did as she asked and discovered Sinclair Lewis who in turn led me to Lincoln Steffins.  She had opened another door for me and taught me that it was better to get all the facts and not be too hasty about making decisions.

Many of the good things about me, and none of the bad, came from libraries.

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