by Madeline Hunter
Blogs are not soapboxes. I know that, but I hope you will forgive me for using this blog as one because the topic is important to anyone who cares about the transformative value of books.
All across the country, state and local budgets are in trouble, and among the services taking hits—in some places, big hits—are the libraries. It isn’t just a matter of cutting the library budgets by ten or even twenty percent. In some cases libraries are closing, or losing a large percentage of their funding. In many locations libraries are being deemed unessential services. That means they aren’t really necessary. They are a nice extra, to be supported only when a community is flush.
This distresses me at a very personal, emotional level. See, when I was growing up, we did not have money to buy books. It was not even an option. So we went to the library for our books. I was five when I got my first library card. My father went on a regular basis, and he took us with him, and this was just part of the routine of our lives. We didn’t use the library for study sessions or hanging out. We used the library for reading, and for getting books to take home to read.
When I went away to college, the library became my refuge the first year. The rest of the campus was strange and full of new people. But put me in a library, any library, and I am right at home again. It was in college that libraries instilled in me an interest and fascination with research, with the serendipitous discoveries that come from browsing the stacks.
I have since been in libraries all over the world. Grand old world ones so beautiful you are stunned. Small, dusty ones you suspect are fire traps. I love them all. I love them not only for the role they have played in my life, but for what they stand for.
The culture of the world is in its libraries. In this country, for my entire life, anyone could get a public library card, and anyone with that card had access to the ideas, achievements, and histories that define who we are. Public libraries are among the most democratic of institutions in this country. They are places of learning, of betterment, of boot-strapping. Furthermore, a democracy cannot thrive without the free flow of information and knowledge, and that is what public libraries are all about.
I never thought I’d see the day when all this might change. When governors faced with a budget in crisis would just lop off the libraries. When the necessity of libraries would no longer be a given. Maybe people are assuming that it can all be found on the net now. Well, it can’t. Also there are a lot of families like mine when I was a child. If we could not afford to buy books then, what are the odds that today we would be able to afford the technology and ISP fees to be on the web? In most communities the library is the only place where some families have access to the web.
What is happening in your community regarding the library? I hope you will voice your support for its funding if some politician decides it is a nonessential service.
What roles have libraries played in your life?