What everyone knows about the public library is that it houses thousands of books, and people of all ages have free access to them. The public library is the only place where authors such as Douglas Adams, Mitch Albom, and Julia Alvarez exchange neighborly greetings across time and culture, and the people who visit them have the opportunity to do the same. Most view the library as standing at the front lines of literacy and learning, an almost holy monument to democracy. If asked, nearly everyone can offer up a nostalgic memory of visiting their local library and being awestruck by the vast array of books at their disposal. Who can even imagine a community without a public library?
What I know about the public library is that nostalgia and idealism are nearly the only lifelines keeping it in business. Funds are drying up, and the libraries remembered so fondly are now dinosaurs facing extinction. As the American Library Association makes clear, “libraries of all kinds need money. The amount of funding that a library receives directly influences the quality of its services.” When fiscally possible, libraries have added e-books, Wi-Fi and more programming, but people with even modest means have other more convenient resources for their books, learning and entertainment. Also, Geek the Library points out that “new technology available through your local library costs money and can create ongoing charges—and the need for more technology-savvy staff. Also, access to this technology often increases library traffic, making it even more important to evolve the library building and staff skills.” Politicians are people with means who decide which agencies will receive funding. I once heard a County Commissioner say to the Library Board, “But no one uses the library anymore.” He was half right because he was obviously referring to himself and others of privilege. According to Geek the Library, “Americans are using their public library more than ever before, but in many cases, overall funding is down. And some libraries have been forced to cut hours, programs and staff, and even close their doors.” For Agnes who struggles to feed her family, Joe who has no home at all, Larry who was laid off from his job of twenty years, and Beatrice who has no extra income to spend on books, the library offers sanctuary and necessary (albeit outdated and underfunded) resources. An older but still relevant article from the Huffington Posts explains why libraries still matter. Read more here: Why Libraries Matter. I have no doubt that most everyone still loves libraries, but I also know that few of those library lovers actually support them anymore, good intentions not withstanding.
Libraries are not giving up however. Consider this comment from Michele Bittner, “so while how libraries operate might be changing, their goals of intellectual freedom, literacy, diversity, equity of access, education and continuous learning must continue,” and read her article about how public libraries are evolving in the face of budget cuts: Public Library Gets Creative after Bad Budget Cuts
I Love Libraries featured a similar article: LIBRARY FUNDING CUTS PROVIDE OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE