Sunday, June 24, 2007

Libraries for the People

A Random Friday Question on the Washington Post asks the question , Do We Need Libraries Anymore?

In the article, he wonders why we need public libraries, a typical bait-type article. However, his issues have already been mentioned by other bloggers at Library Revolution: It's an asset for the community as a whole, but not for me and at Library Nation: Seeing yourself at the Library

The first article wonders why we need public libraries anymore. He states that most people prefer Barnes and Noble or go on the internet to get their information. The latter state that people don't see themselves at a public library because they are, in general, dirty and smelly, or that they are for the poor, children, and the elderly. Apparently, all three have suddenly become independently wealthy.

Public libraries have always served a simple purpose, cut through the proprietary layer that exists between reading and information and provide it to as many people as possible. Could I fund books for my children every time I go to Barnes and Noble, no way. Who can? If I couldn't get books for my children it would hurt them, they would fall behind academically. The exposure to books for young children is such a critical need, anyone who would question it doesn't have children, or doesn't care about them. The writer's viewpoint typically comes from an anti-tax perspective. I don't want to pay for education or libraries, I just want to sit in my cave and avoid taxes (even though the Ben Franklin tenet stands the test of time, you can't avoid it).

Furthermore, library use has not gone down because of the computer. 99% of libraries in the United States have computers in them, mostly with T-1 connections, thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Computers are just as essential to getting information as a book, libraries have them. They also have an even higher proprietary layer to them, buy a $500 computer AND monthly internet access, not cheap. Marc Fisher has apparently not darkened the door of a library in some time, so apparently doesn't see the value. Too bad he decided to write an op-ed piece about it.

I feel that the latter two articles on Library Nation and Library Revolution don't understand the basic impact of libraries on the community. A library to them is often seen as visiting an HMO filled with people who need affordable help. Apparently, libraries have all this windfall of money to keep their facilities completely clean and looking new all of the time. Even grants-in-aid money for construction tops at $100,000, that doesn't renovate much of the library.

Libraries are free and accessible to everyone. The average working adult doesn't have time to sit and read at the library, they place their hold from home, pick up their book and leave. That's great, convenient for them. However, my library is in the downtown area and is in need of a renovation. We have transients; we have the poor; we have children, and we have the elderly. We also have young professionals coming in on their own, checking out our materials and using our computers. The perception that libraries are run-down is often a true statement, it is not a perception issue.

However, most people would prefer to feed their reading addiction or get their information in this affordable way. No one can afford to pay for all of the information they need, or buy all the books they want to read. It seems that people who complain that libraries are unneeded and undesirable don't really go into a library and see what they are all about. At least, not more than a cursory walk-in to fill up their article and sound like they know what they are talking about.

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