Years ago, when I worked at the American Library Association (always in humble capacities), there was one ALA-produced poster that I preferred to all the others. It said: It is better to have libraries in times of no money than money in times of no libraries.
While it is similar to an old pot-smoker motto, there is a tremendous truth contained in this simple statement.
We are in"times of no money" and libraries are feeling it.
Cities and states are cutting budgets left and right. While not one single public library was closed during the Great Depression, libraries are being shuttered now.
The cuts occur even while more and more people crowd into libraries for job hunting help, free entertainment, and access to computers to apply for jobs.
—I don't doubt that politicians often think that they must make a choice between police and libraries. Most people seem to think that police are necessary and that libraries are "nice." I would argue that libraries actually do prevent crime, without the drama of arrests and trials.
Most teen crime and pregnancy happen in the hours after school (I read that somewhere). If teens were using the library after school--how many crimes (and unplanned pregnancies) might be prevented? I promise that libraries are cost-effective locations to provide teen programs in your community and can partner with anyone.
—The library is a bedrock of our democracy. Libraries provide government information. Libraries document local history. And librarians defend your freedom of thought!
Librarians have championed intellectual freedom in America since just after World War II, when Americans were horrified by the Nazi book burnings and censorship. When people want to limit your access to ideas, they march to the local library and look for books to remove. And meet fierce opposition from librarians.—There are those who argue that the internet will replace books. I don't think that Amazon.com is betting on that happening anytime soon.
A library is far more than a book warehouse. There are librarians to help you find information or entertainment. The library collection has been built by librarians who carefully chose according to the needs and tastes of the community.
—Libraries are home to writers, historians, and journalists. We organize and provide access to the documents and works that are made into new novels, poems, plays, and history. Every branch of science needs libraries to document the latest research.
— Libraries are "green" by their very nature. They allow people to save on book buying, offer re-usable resources, recycle donated and "ex-libris" books and magazines with Friends of the Library sales.
—Libraries are a powerful, informed consumer body for reference materials--encouraging publishers to product accurate and reasonably priced materials. Countless reference books would never be published without libraries as a market.
Reference sounds dry-as-dust until you need to look up medical information, family history, or check out a company where you might want to work. Online databases can be described as more flexible reference books--also supported by library budgets. Information has a value and libraries make it widely accessible for the lowest price.
—The future of printed books is bright.
While it is easy to see that online services, video games, and tv take up leisure time, we keep buying traditional books and "books" in the form of Kindles and such like. We buy them because of our familiarity with authors and genres (gained from printed books). Libraries continue to offer new formats.
—There is no substitute for colorful printed children's books. Parents can make hundreds of test-runs of books before deciding which ones to buy and keep in their family.
Children's books add a charm to our childhoods that no screenload can. Books that are borrowed from the library provide an enormous expansion of a child's home library. Every child should own books, but every child should also be exposed to the wide assortment of books in a public library.Public libraries make for kids who love to read. How can you ever consider replacing that with money?
photo credits: WPA poster courtesy of Marxchivist on flikr. The kids with Seuss hats is a photo from the Wareham, Mass. public library.