National Library Week is being observed this year from April 11-17. National Library Week was first observed in 1958, and has since become the traditional week to celebrate all libraries, whether they be public, academic, or special collections. The theme this year is: Communities Thrive @ Your Library. The American Library Association (ALA) points out that libraries are at the heart of their communities.
Sadly, in many communities, the heart is being shut down. Communities around the country are facing difficult budget decisions, and in many cases, libraries are being closed down, or their budgets cut. This comes at a time when library use has greatly increased. Folks are looking for how-to books, using the internet services, or taking out books, puzzles, CDs, and movies.
Paul LeClerc, President of the New York City Public Library writes about how the proposed $33 million budget cut will affect libraries in New York City:
* 6 million fewer visits made to NYPL libraries next year - 1 million fewer by children and young people
* 5 million fewer items circulated - 1.7 million to children
* $9 million less with which to purchase books and other materials
* 1.5 million fewer computer sessions
* 17,000 fewer programs and classes, serving 500,000 fewer people
* tens of thousands fewer people helped with job searches, tax preparation, retirement planning, voter registration, and starting a business
What would also be lost with a $33 million cut is hope to the economically disadvantaged, inspiration to the new immigrant, and a safe and nurturing place for those in need. Most importantly, libraries provide an essential tool - knowledge - to everyone who enters, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity.
Boston is likely to close 4 branch libraries. In Florida the state legislature is considering ending state aid to libraries.
In Phoenix the library is facing a 21.4 % budget cut, which would mean that 6 out of 15 branches would close.
These are difficult and painful decisions being made in communities. Getting involved can make a difference. In Charlotte, NC the library board voted to keep their libraries open:
- The Mecklenburg County Library Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to cut salaries and lay off 84 people instead of closing 12 library branches.
The board discussed three options at a special meeting Wednesday to make up a $2 million budget shortfall.
One option included closing 12 of the county's 24 libraries. The board decided last week that would be the best option, but public outcry forced the board to reconsider.
"The community response to the library's plight has been nothing short of overwhelming," said library director Charles Brown.
"The people have spoken and clearly and loudly they have said the library is a very valued institution," said board member Robin Bransterom.
Clearly this came at a cost, but it does keep all of the libraries open, and it shows that library users can have a real impact on these decisions in their communities. This blog post has been making the rounds in my state, and serves as a gentle reminder of why libraries are so important:
Libraries aren't just about book lending. They are the heart of most communities. They are the one place in any community that you can go all year, rain or shine, rich or penniless. They are the one place in communities that provide fair and equal access. They don't discriminate. They don't judge. They give over and over and over.
And now is when they are needed most desperately. Now is when they provide the most valuable services. Now is when, even if a state or county is so far in the red they feel they'll never get out, now is when libraries should be getting the green light to extend their hours, not have them taken away. Without libraries, the economic divide in our communities grows even wider. Please. If the library in your community is in danger, speak up. If you can help any library that's in trouble, please do it. This is about kids, babies, new moms and dads, unemployed parents, a lonely retired person who needs weekly or daily interaction and reading material to get them through the week. It's about keeping communities intact. Your community. My community. It matters.
To learn more about how to help, the folks at Save Libraries.org are working to help folks from around the country to coordinate and share information.
cross posted at Main St/workingamerica.org/blog