Thursday, April 17, 2014

National Library Week 2014: Lives Change at the Library

Lives Change at the Library
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This week is the 2014 National Library Week sponsored by the ALA  The theme this year is Lives Change at the Library.

The event began in the fifties (the spring after I was born) and is intended to raise awareness of all that the libraries and their workers do for individuals and communities and encourage the funding for those services.  

Now, during these economic hard times, this is more urgent than ever as libraries have been loosing funding and closing down.  In those that survive services, hours and materials have been cut.  Which translates to fewer librarians and their aides, fewer books and magazines, fewer multimedia items, fewer days open, fewer events held at local libraries.

It is the most astonishing shortsightedness on the part of library levy voters who can't see that the value they get from the libraries compounds the value of the money levied many times over even if they don't use the services themselves.  

And what can I say about the alarming arrogance on the part of community leaders, politicians and local business owners who are often spouting off about how they got where they are without setting foot in a library?

How can they all not see that even if they don't use the library themselves they are benefiting as much as anyone who keeps their card tapped out at all times?  Or that there are library services they could be using that could save them time and money if they didn't see it as a status step down or a violation of their libertarian doctrines?  Or that the services provided contributes to community health in ways that save hundreds of dollars for every dollar spent on the library?

Consider these few:
  • Help with tax forms.  Besides those on fixed income like the elderly and disabled there are the employees of local businesses whose peace of mind translates into more efficiency at work.  But not if the library is never open when they are off the job site.
  • A source of information on the people and issues on the next ballot.
  • Fact check via phone or email.
  • Activities for juveniles that keep them safe and the community safe from their boredom fed shenanigans while inspiring their imaginations toward their future contribution to the community and expanding their aspirations.
  • Resources for study and homework help for the students who will be the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs.
  • Resources for teen and adult hope-to-be entrepreneurs in learning all the requirements to setting up and running a business.
  • Resources for homeschooling families who are also heavy consumers of specialty products provided by local business.
  • Help for non-native speakers of English in becoming proficient at communicating in English enhancing their value to employers and the community at large.  Not to mention relieving one of the stressors contributing to dysfunctional behaviors that break down family and neighborhood cohesion and clog the justice system.  How do those costs compare to the few dollars per month asked of local property owners for a healthy vibrant library?

I blogged several times about the Southern Oregon Library System's closure in April of 2007 and how it reopened that fall with most of the 15 branches cut to less than twenty hours over two or three days.  It has yet to bring those days and hours back.  Several of the branches opted out of the system and closed altogether.  It still saddens and angers me.

But I'm currently living in Longview, WA and using the library of my childhood and it seems to be as vibrant and bustling as ever.

I've talked often here about how much I owe to the library systems I've patronized.  
  • I've called them my universities.  
  • This autodidact has depended on libraries to satisfy her every craving for story or knowledge.  
  • I've checked out several thousand library books over my life-time and without libraries I'd never have had access to most of the several hundred novels I've read.  
  • 95% of everything I've learned about the craft of writing and storytelling I owe to library books and media.
  • The research for my stories depended entirely on libraries before the Internet and it is my belief that the Internet will never completely replace libraries for serious researchers*.  

*Research librarians with advanced degrees in media storage and information technologies still outshine and outsmart the search engines--especially now that most of the common free ones are now sponsor driven or the top tier in search results achieve their positions not because of their relevance or usefulness or even truthfulness but rather because someone with something to sell has paid for the slot.

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