Thursday, May 24, 2012

(Why) Do We Need Libraries?

"If we didn't have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate.”
--Meagan Jo Tetrick, age 12

“In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us how to swim." --Author Linton Weeks (Washington Post, Jan. 13)
How necessary to the community is the Library, really?  It depends.  It holds value for individuals—job seekers, toddlers learning brand spanking new words, those suffering with a chronic illness and looking for answers, and students becoming utterly immersed in subject matter and determining a career or lifelong learning path.  It has a different value to the entire community—and the nation.  Poets, entertainers, and politicians have weighed in to say the library has value because it supports discovery, enrichment, and innovation. 

Access to a free public library can be seen as a much deeper community value than simply the collective bargain of sharing resources and enjoying borrowing privileges.  Many argue that the library’s value is at the core of American principles of democracy, equal access, civic engagement, and greatness.

v  "My mother and my father were illiterate immigrants from Russia.  When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject.  They couldn’t believe this access to knowledge we have here in America.”  --Kirk Douglas

v  “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the Earth as the Free Public Library--this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”  --Andrew Carnegie

v  “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.   The only entrance requirement is interest.” --Lady Bird Johnson

v  “Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations.  Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission.” --Toni Morrison

v  If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all. --Senator John F. Kennedy, October 1960

v  "When you are growing up, there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully -- the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer." --Keith Richards, Rolling Stones Guitarist

v  "It's funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women.  The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community.  Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults.  Libraries can never be shushed." --Comedian and author Paula Poundstone, national spokesperson for Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (FOLUSA)
Some people have security systems, and most people have fire extinguishers, but we rely on police and fire departments to serve the community.  Few of us expect our neighbors to hire a personal police officer or firefighter, but in debates about library funding, some say folks should purchase the latest bestseller or visit a Redbox for Movie Night.  Many of us do have some books, films, and reference materials in our homes and on our digital devices, but individually—and as a community--we rely on the library to provide information access far beyond these resources.  We may not ever need a fire truck to race down our street or need to check out a twelve-part documentary on war crimes, but as a community, we have agreed to keep all of these public services available to us all. 
Why?  As many speakers have remarked, “people love the Library”.  Maybe it’s because the library has material exploring everyone’s favorite subjects and because it helps them find new favorites.  Books, movies, and other media deliver new ideas, skills training, engaging human stories that strengthen our own connections to the world and each other, artistic beauty and stress-relieving entertainment, and adventures of the mind.  For many, the library is a sanctuary.  And speakers have noted—and committee members have observed—that librarians are a special breed of passionate customer service provider.  Their life’s work is your life’s learning.

What does a library do?
v  "Books educate us about art and politics and people and ideas.  This happens in non-fiction and fiction.  And in poetry, of course.  So many of us have been moved to a deeper understanding of things -- or many things -- by taking in a few dark lines on the page." -- Author Elizabeth Berg

v  “A good library is a place, a palace where the lofty spirits of all nations and generations meet.” --Samuel Niger (1883-1956)
Where can the library take you?  Have you discovered a favorite author, introduced your child to beloved series, or stumbled upon a documentary and opened yourself to new knowledge? 
v  "When I was a kid and the other kids were home watching Leave It to Beaver, my father and stepmother were marching me off to the library."  --Oprah Winfrey, talk-show host

v  "I used to go to the library all the time when I was a kid.  As a teenager, I got a book on how to write jokes at the library, and that, in turn, launched my comedy career." 
--comedian Drew Carey

v  “I would walk into the Carnegie Library and I would see the pictures of Booker T. and pictures of Frederick Douglass and I would read. I would go into the Savannah Public Libraries in the stacks and see all of the newspapers from all over the country. Did I dream that I would be on the Supreme Court? No. But I dreamt that there was a world out there that was worth pursuing.” --Clarence Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

v  "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island . . ." --Walt Disney (1901-1966)

The Jacksonville Public Library has seen its budget repeatedly reduced.  Reductions to staff and materials need not be the continued trend.  This inquiry’s committee has focused on whether seeking independent funding apart from the City of Jacksonville would better sustain this community’s libraries, and the answer is “Yes.”   Renovations and innovations may be on the horizon.
v  "Everyone loves libraries, but library workers can't live on love alone.  Just ask our landlords, doctors and families." –ALA

v  "If it is right that schools should be maintained by the whole community for the well-being of the whole, it is right also that libraries should be so maintained."--Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, 1904

v  "If you cut funding to libraries, you cut the lifeblood of our communities." --Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

v  "Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague." --Eleanor Crumblehulme, library assistant, University of British Columbia

v  “What is more important in a library than anything else is the fact that it exists. --Archibald Macleish, U.S. Poet

All quotations are from a compilation on the Iowa Library Services website


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