Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Libraries Are More Than Books

I was talking with the parent of a new student (starting next fall - welcome, Lily!!) about libraries. Sarah is studying library science at a time when public library funding is being slashed, closing libraries across the country and slowing the purchase of new materials. People are buying e-readers and downloading free books online - why bother keeping libraries open?

Because they are more than books.

Libraries are communities with resources, printed and human. Recognizing that, one library in Illinois has started teaching kids how to research and write; instead of handing them a list of resources or a stack of books, the Hoopeston Public Library offers afterschool classes on how to research, including online and archival research, and how to put it all together in a well-written paper. Volunteers from the community assist, as do the regular library staff.

This is what I am talking about. Libraries used to be the center of the community before we got online; rooms were (and still are!) available for monthly meetings (free or modest rental fee, usually), story times and summer programs are available for the kids, and parents could access job skills training and resume writing. Now you can register to vote and utilize copy services (cheaper at my library than at the office supply store). Why don't we have more afterschool study programs? Why don't we use the spaces in the library for booktalks with local authors and writing workshops? Why not restore the function of the library - enlightenment and education, exposure to the world through information - and fund them in the manner they deserve?

I have fond memories of growing up in my local library. I also remember walking into the main branch of the New York Public Library and being intimidated. I wrote my Master's thesis in the University of Washington public library. I followed a very old woman into the basement of the Seattle Public Library to see some ancient children's books.

As Henry Ward Beecher said, "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life," and from Victor Hugo, "A library implies an act of faith." Let's keep the faith, shall we?

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