An Open Letter in Support of Libraries*

1st March 2011

*Forgive me, dear reader. In the midst of all this political insanity, I had to take a minute to talk about libraries. If you have anything to add, I sure wish you would in comments.

Seattle Public Library received this from a young supporter.

 

Dear Legislators:

This nation is in a financial crisis. At this point, you would have to be one of my freshman college students (I say this with endearment) in order to be oblivious to our debt. I also understand you have to find ways to cut back, but I urge you – no – I plead with you to reconsider the massive public library budget cuts.

Growing up, my public library was a magical place. My mom would take me for story time, and I will never forget walking into the sizable children’s section where there stood a circus cage with all manner of stuffed animals – giraffes, bears, monkeys. Even though I had to be incredibly young, I still feel that wholesome rush when I step back into that library all these years later.

We moved several times when I was young, but the library was a constant. The librarians knew the names of all my family members, and my mom’s huge tote somehow managed to carry all the books we checked out. My biggest problem at that age was the checkout limit or the missing Babysitter’s Club book 12 from the series. Where was that book? What insufferable pre-teen had not returned it?

One night during the hot, humid Texas summer, the librarians hosted a lock-in. I still think their sanity may have been compromised, but oh my goodness, was it fun. All activities were library themed, and any movies were adapted from beloved books. I, though, didn’t go in for the popcorn and Coke float crowd. No, I wandered the aisles, finding books and curling up in my sleeping bag to read. It was a dream come true. I won the summer reading contest that year and several years after.

As a high school, college, and graduate student, libraries became pragmatic, a means to an end. In fact, after graduating with a Master’s degree in English, having checked out over 100 books from the university library to complete my thesis, I was finished for a while. I appreciated what the library had done for me, but I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.

Then this past year, I was an adjunct instructor at a local university, and as secondary education suffered budget cut after budget cut, I again returned to the library. I had very little income, and I had no money for entertainment. The books I had so loved purchasing were now out of reach until I remembered all those happy days spent at the library.

I marched down, signed up, and checked out almost a dozen books. The librarian seemed surprised, and I told her she hadn’t seen anything yet. Nearly a year later, I am still at the library every couple of weeks. I have struck up friendships with the men and women working behind the desk and in the stacks. I bring paperback books to donate as I cull through my personal library, as well as DVDs I will never watch again.

As an adult, what strikes me most is not story hour or lock-ins with sugar-hyped children running around. No, this time around, I am astounded by the other purposes for the library. My library downtown is a place for those with no Internet access. They can pay bills, catch up with family members, or file taxes on the computer. There is a large contingent of homeless people who sit in the chairs quietly with a magazine or a book, resting tired feet and enjoying the heat or air conditioning the building provides. Children dressed in mismatched clothing and worn shoes eagerly look through the shelves to find a book to take home for a little while.

Of course, there’s me, loading up on new releases and filling out requests for books I cannot find among the shelves; however, the library does not and should not exist for people like me alone. The library also provides much-needed services, teaching literacy and language courses, offering book club times for those who want or need company and community.

That is what makes libraries so vital; they exist for those who love to read and those who don’t, for those who can afford to buy books and for those who would not read without the library. They exist for the man who cannot read and the man with a desire to teach him how to read. They exist for students to have a safe haven to study with no distractions from home and television and noisy dorms. Libraries exist, not for profit, but to provide information. Its civic duty, as well as yours, is to educate citizens.

Take my library away, and even with my limited income, I will still read. However, take a library away from a society, and watch as your citizens plummet further into ignorance.

Sincerely,

jenn aka the picky girl who will get a heck of a lot pickier if you close my library

*end rant*

  • Marlene

    How very true, and how very sad. I could not agree with you more. A society that kills it’s libraries, is a society I have no wish to be a part of. Without the library, I could not have given my three children the rich wealth of literature that I was blessed to be able to do, as you were all growing up. Without the library, I could not support my ‘habit’ which I sometimes believe is more intense than a drug habit, I NEED to read, as I need to breath….I can not be without a stack at all times….and as a now retired reading teacher, I cannot support my habit at the local bookstore. Unfortunately,but not surprisingly, a lifetime spent sharing my passion for books and the wealth and richness it lends to life, with the several thousand children that I have taught, does not equate in dollars. A retired Texas teachers paycheck is a puny and sad thing….it most certainly does not equal to my hunger and need to read. So, close our libraries and you have cut off the opportunity for thousands of children and adults to enrich their lives, to grow, to escape whatever they have a need to escape from in a healthy and positive way. Cutting off our libraries will cause a massive hemorrhage of an artery that gives the lifeblood of knowledge, joy and imagination to a community. A living, breathing institution that deserves to survive.

  • Jennifer,
    Please tell me how to forward this. I would love for this to be published on Huffington Post and others. It really sucks being computer challanged 🙂

    • pickygirl

      You can copy the link, but I just realized how pretentious my comment about my freshmen sounds. I love them, I do, but they ARE pretty oblivious of what happens outside their own circle.