Our first edition of the new “Question of the Week” feature is a tad sentimental. That’s because we’re dropping our hearts right into one of the sad developments of the recession era: namely, library closures in the U.S. and the U.K. Philip Pullman has already given his spirited response; we’re going to throw in our two cents and we have asked some others to toss in their thoughts too. And then we want to know what you think.
First, the responses:
I’ve already written about this on my personal blog, but with a semi-political slant. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons for having libraries, some of them in the form that I discussed on my blog, and others in the form of things others have already brought up (i.e., Philip Pullman and other celebrities refer to having wonderful experiences in libraries, usually ones that changed their lives). The fact of the matter is that libraries are an immense resource not just for people in general, but more specifically for parents. We know from studies (some of which we’ve discussed in the podcast) that children who grow up in households with little to no books suffer long term educational consequences for that absence, which often rolls over into succeeding generations. Illiteracy is a social disease; libraries are the vaccine. If I’m correct in assuming that library closures are a socio-economic problem, then it would be fair to assume that closing libraries in small towns will disproportionately affect the people, poor or otherwise, in those towns, since it will remove access to literacy resources in the form of reading programs and actual reading materials. Hell, even computer access is a literacy resource. For that reason, I think libraries are not just important, but absolutely essential to the well-being of people, regardless of their national or economic origins. Reading is a wonderful gift. Being able to read even more so. Libraries offer that gift for a fraction of your tax dollars, and then cultivate it like a literacy seed. People, of course, have different experiences with libraries; some may be changed forever, while others might not use the library at all. But the library should always be there for them if they need it, like a lighthouse at the edge of a rocky sea. We need a few static things in the world…
This is what I get for not responding until after Shaun responds, which means that he’s pretty much already said everything that I want to say and more eloquently. Luckily, I have a slightly different perspective on the situation because I have kids. I’ve touched on this in the podcast before, but nobody listens anyway so I’ll risk repeating myself and boring everyone. In the town we used to live in, the library was like a second home to myself (as it has always been for me) and my children. We spent, on average, only one day a week there, but that was the most special day of the week because it meant new reading material for my very voracious daughters and it also meant chess club! The library is not just a source of books, it is a source of community camaraderie. The girls made friends there, they could relax there, they could learn there. Our new home is in a much smaller town with only one library for the entire county. It’s almost a tragedy how few resources it gets and how much the community depends on it. Not only do they provide books, but they provide after-school tutoring, language classes, computer classes, employment help, etc. etc. Those resources were even further strained recently when the school board decided to cut funding for school libraries, forcing even more pressure onto the county library. Is the school system planning on helping out the county library monetarily? Of course not… AND my governor has decided that the entire state budget for libraries should be cut. Unfortunately, I live in a county that barely has the local tax base to support the library on it’s own. Our library will buckle under the pressure. It will only be through the dedicated service of local volunteers that it might survive, but the majority of the services will be gone and the community will suffer. Shaun is absolutely correct – small towns are the most in danger of losing their libraries and they are the most in need of them. So please donate to your local libraries. One of the easiest ways to help is by donating the books you just bought and read and definitely don’t need sitting on your bookshelf at home – share it with your community! Or deliberately turn your book in late so you accrue fines and HAVE to “donate” money 😉
T. M. Hunter
(author of the Aston West stories and novels)
Most of all, I’d say there are no other alternatives out there providing books for free (short of pirating electronic copies, which is illegal). Certainly, there are cheaper alternatives than buying hardback copies from your local store, but when one pits disposable income purchases against basic survival needs, books and other reading material will (usually) always go by the wayside. Knowledge is power, as we know, and one should not be left behind the power curve simply for a lack of income.
Libraries? Great things, libraries. The best gauge of a person’s potential is a library card in their pocket.
There you go. So, why do you think libraries are important? Let us know in the comments or send your answer to our Twitter account (or via email — skiffyandfanty[at]gmail[dot]com).