Monday, November 2, 2015

The Death of A Library

There are times when it is better to say nothing and decide that there are better battles to fight.  This is not one of those times.  This is the time to actually say what needs to be said and let the battle begin.  It has become quite evident common sense is no longer common, in particular  when it comes to libraries and library closing.  Another way to describe it, a death of a library.    It's not pretty.  Not by a long shot and yet in the year 2015 when our "culture" has become better educated,  creative with new technology and willing to adapt to the changes that come, there are too many stories of library either crumbling or closing the doors for good.  Why?  What purpose does this satisfy?

Since 2010, there has been a steady stream of library closings due to budget cuts.  Most of the libraries were in cities that economic times had hit the hardest.  Sadly, what can be said if the financial support in a community dries up.  Even sadder is when that happens the soul of the community dries up along with it.  Yes, the library is the heart and soul of a community.  It is what keeps a community stable and growing.  In 2010,  OCLC produced a publication entitled "Perceptions of the Library."  During the Great Recession it was found that more citizens sought to change their lives by returning to school.   Community Colleges across the country witnessed an increase in student enrollment, and it was not only 18-23 year olds who sought to increase their knowledge and skill base,  students in their late 40's were returning to class to update skills in hopes of landing a better job or begin a second career.   Libraries witnessed an increase in usage as well.  As history has always shown us,  libraries play a critical role in communities  during down economic times.  So again, why close the doors to a service that is needed?

It is a bit of an oxymoron  for leaders to say that communities cannot afford a library because of the cost but in the same breath announce that they are all for educated society.  If education is high on their list, then asking for financial support to keep libraries open would not be a discussion.  Rather the shift in the discussion would be to find ways to keep the doors open.  Sadly more often than not the discussions are closed and decisions have been made.  Doors are shut.  Citizens begin to wonder why the community is on it's last legs.   It's not an exaggeration to point out that the absence of libraries leave a void in the community that can not be filled or replaced.

A death of a library begins with a drop in property tax base.  Next are the budget cuts which leads to fewer new books, databases,  computers and more importantly staff.   One can imagine the next step of desperate fundraising events and awareness to save the library.   When the  financial fundraising dries up as well, it is only a matter of time before officials begin to put a timeline together for when books, shelves, circulation desks, and all of the libraries assets are to be sold or consolidated into other departments.  Sometimes, as in the case of a county library which served as the backup for local municipalities, the death is harder to take.  Not only is the library dismissed by the community but also by surrounding libraries who find it economical to be independent.   In either case, the saddest moment is when the doors are closed forever.  

Yes, the sound of libraries doors closing is quite similar to hearing a coffin closing.  It is hollow.  It echoes in the mind.  It is final.   This can not continue.    Libraries are worth saving, each and every one of them.  
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