Monday, April 14, 2014

National Library Week 2014: Libraries Are Important

Libraries are important. Three simple words but to many these words are meaningless. They convey a belief or opinion that libraries have value. That libraries, of all sizes and types, should be held in high esteem. This high esteem does come with a price tag. After all anything of value should and always have had a number placed next to it to give it it's stature if you will. However, when a country like the United States (and even a few European countries) begin to doubt the strengths that a library in the community provides, it's disturbing to say the least. This is not the first time this topic has been discussed among library professionals or on this blog. It is an ongoing discussion that seeks to find the answer to "marketing" the library in a way that is enticing to patrons of all ages. Yet the words "Libraries are Important" begs one to ask why, how or when. The Pew Research Center conducted survey in 2013 to find out how the typical American felt about the public library. The answers and the numbers are illuminating and sheds some light on the why, how and when are libraries important. One of the most interesting number to pop out of this research is that 67% of respondents to the survey stated that a library closure would be a "major" impact on their family's life. That's an interesting figure seeing how just in New York City in May 2013 they were projecting that 60 of the cities' libraries would have to close. This was due to lack of funding and the route of privatization was being being pursued. Where is the disconnect here? In one major city 6o libraries will close yet in the research group 67% said that a community without a library would affect their families in a major way. In the boroughs of New York there are neighborhoods that not only need their libraries but will be disconnected to resource in a major way due to economic conditions. The case can always be made that libraries are a huge influence on the community. If there is a good library in the neighborhood, children have a safe place to go for programs or do homework. Adults have a place to gather information for home or work life. The lament continues: economic hardships brings more patrons through the door while at the same time, financial support for libraries drops. For the sake of the 67% who value the library, something has to be done to stop the maddening cycle of funding, then no funding. In many counties and cities across the United States, people are already seeing the demise of the local bookstore. Borders is gone. B. Dalton's is gone. Barnes & Nobles is on the way out. The only "bookstore" that is thriving is Amazon, which as everyone knows, it's online. Are libraries soon to follow suit? No and here's why. Bookstores are in the business to sell books. All kinds of books. If the economy is not healthy, the consumers don't have extra spending money. Not a good thing for a store but wonderful for a library. Bookstores also don't like people sitting around reading, unless the book has been purchased. Libraries on the other hand encourage reading in their buildings. As a matter of fact, the more readers the better. (Barnes & Nobles does have a coffee shop in the store, which may entice readers to sit, sip coffee and read. However, trust this one fact, managers are giving the stink eye to those who are reading a book. They can't help but wonder if the book has been bought or if the reader will buy it.) Bookstores have tried to model themselves after libraries in the hopes that it will draw readers into the stores. It turns out that people only go to the bookstore when they want to purchase a book. With libraries, there are a host of reasons to come in without feeling obligated to pull out their wallets. Libraries are what can be termed the "safe zone" to browsing, lingering and reading in the isles. Lastly, to be perfectly blunt, if a bookstore closes it does not impact a families' lifestyle. If they want a book to purchase, they will go somewhere else. For library services on the other hand, there is no where to go but to a library. Is there a good answer to why a library closing would impact a family? The best answer is that the library is a support for parents helping children with homework. It's a support for older patrons who need social interactions and book discussion groups fill that need. It's a support for job seekers looking for work or high school students preparing for SATs. In short it supports just about every type of household in the community. When is a library closing a major impact? When children in an urban city like New York or Detroit have to go across town to use a library. Let's be honest. If it is too hard for child to get to the library, they won't go. How can a parent, or mentor encourage reading when the opportunities are not readily available. Mayors de Blaio and Duggan should consider that children with low reading skills tend to drop out of school and their economic opportunities for jobs dwindle. (That's a rant for another day.) If the future of those children are not bright, then the city's future is just as dim. This week we celebrate National Library Week. why? For the reason that began this discussion. Libraries are important. They truly are. If just for a moment the country could just close their eyes and imagine a world without libraries, what would they envision? Hopefully, once they've open their eyes they will realize how horrible it would be not to have a library. For many, like the 67%, the idea is unthinkable. Let's try to convince the other 33% that it's unthinkable for them as well.
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