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JUNE 8, 2010 8:20PM

It is Better to have Libraries

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WPA library poster

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 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.  






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Amen! With every library that closes, we lose a little bit more of our democracy and our humanity. I visit wee (but surprisingly well-stocked) library once a week. I don't know what I'd do without it!
touche. this is of GREAT concern to Darian and me. No place is more important in a community than the public library. When all in society fails, the library will stand. Mrs. Darian The Librarian
It's frightening to think something so many different people can use for different things is going. This is not something for one segment of society, this is the enormous wealth of shared knowledge.

I don't understand how removing access to knowledge is smart. Thanks.
EXCELLENT! Well written, and very informative, as well as entertaining to read. kp
Bravo! (Even though I was terrified of librarians as a child. A trip to the library was the highlight of my week, despite being glowered at by the poor librarians who were always discovering the damage wrought by me reading books in trees, while eating, and in the bath.)
Truth in both versions of the credo, but it is only to be expected that as "intelligence" (and in reference to OS'ers particularly I parse with care) metamorphoses to a web butterfly from it's paper-husk-larval cocoon, it is overly expensive and environmentally destructive to keep printing "books" so that people who like them but aren't paying for them can keep feeling them and smelling them.
"Library" means essentially the same thing as "bible" - a collection of books.
Magnates who once upon a time lamented the state of their employment pool's general knowledge level built libraries to have a better educated pool to draw from.
Now they are laying the well-educated masses off in favor of outsourcing and don't want competition with their own idiot children down the road so they are climbing back behind their castle walls.
It's cyclical.
Read any good scrolls lately?

When in N'awlins, loiter in the library!
Libraries are important.
Every small town that can boast of a vibrant community, must have a market where fresh produce and is available, a bar where great conversation is on tap, and a library which answers all the questions the first two places can't.
Amen and keep the libraries open!! I don't want to admit to how many hours a week I spent in my local library back in the days!! If you needed to know anything, you just go to the reference desk, those guys know EVERYTHING!!!!!!

DON'T SHUT DOWN THE LIBRARIES!! IF THERE'S NO LIBRARIES, WHERE WILL WE GO WHEN WE NEED TO FIND OUT HOW DINOSAURS BRED?!?!? THE POLICE STATION? Please, they're lucky to know where the local donuts are the bestest and the freshest and the reference desk can tell you that!! :)

Rated and TPed
Yes! I love libraries. I almost went to library school. Sometimes I wish I had.

I have this fantasy--when I win the lottery and become an eccentric kajillionaire, I'm going to give a massive grant to my county's public library system.

Here's my grant (with strings attached). If you want my massive kajillions, my grant is for staffing and extended hours. That's it. You can't use my money to fix the roof, or buy books, or fix the furnace. That's up to the county. You can, however, use as many of my kajillions as you want to keep the library OPEN from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week. Staffing, heat, light. Or AC if you're in New Orleans (perhaps I'll send my kajillions your way too).

Great post! Rated.
Thanks again.
Bellweather--thanks. and love that wee library
Bernadine: Mrs. Darian the Librarian--wishing you well
L'Heure Blue--it's scary to think that making information less accessible is considered "smart" by anyone in power
Kit--I'm a fan!
Felisa--those librarians were just happy to have the books back!
Fred--always the cynic. Glad you dropped by to join the fray
Nik--you got it in 3 words!!!!!
Mr. Fawkes--wonderful!
Tinky--you and I are just soulmates!
Froggy--yeah, cops as librarians--"nothing to see here" "move along" and "what's all this, then"
Libraries contribute to a civil society. I can't imagine a world without them. Nice post. R
people are lucky to have a library nearby
- thanks for the post, nola
love your new avatar - you knew i would.
I couldn't agree with you more. As many things about my corner of New Jersey I dislike, I am exceptionally proud that we have a dynamic library head in Plainsboro (just outside Princeton), a two-time "NY Times Librarian of the Year" winner who made securing a new state-of-the-art facility her mission. Both our new library and Princeton's Public Library are considered two of the best and lots and lots of teens spend time there.
I can not agree more! Every summer I was first in line at the book mobile at the elementary school. they never let me take all the books I could read but it was glorious. I still am a card carrying library member. I am catching up on books I had not read over the past 20 years. I find too many murder mysteries on the shelves and am dismayed they are not relegated to their own genre at my local library. I expected the fiction section to be novels. I was sorely disappointed. The original thought has been replaced by the formula murder or the murder mystery writer in fashion today. I was so disappointed. Your list of books for reading over the summer was refreshing. I will try to find or order them. I do believe that libraries are essential in a democratic society. Mind numbing is for air planes. Rated
I moved away from an excellent public library, but still love the (decidedly inferior) university library here. Libraries and, you know, librarians too--knowledgeable kind effective ones who love books and know how to effectively put the right ones in the right hands--are one of the biggest reasons I am the kind of reader I am. Excellent post.
Excellent. You make a great case that a library can act as an intellectual center for a community, which I think is a great role for one to play.
Libraries are the cornerstone of an erudite society. Without any argument.. ~R
What I don't understand entirely is why this is an issue. I do understand budget shortfalls, I mean, but if everyone were employed there should be plenty of revenue to hold the libraries open and if everyone is not employed, is there no one who can operate the library on a volunteer basis until the town is back on its feet? I'm sensitive to the risks of volunteerism, and yet if you want to see something not go away, isn't that the way to handle it? If we had no money for our schools would we simply stop teaching our kids or would someone step up to the plate and do it gratis? I'm not saying librarians and teachers shouldn't be paid, I'm just saying if you want a baseline below which you don't fall, at some point people have to acknowledge there are other options than the things being tried.