Sunday, September 19, 2010

Recognizing libraries as necessities

. . . This is why the funding of American libraries should be a matter of national security.  Keeping libraries open, giving access to all children to all books is vital to our nation's sovereignty.  For nearly 85 percent of kids living in rural areas, the only place where they have access to technology or books outside the schoolroom is in a public library.  For many urban kids, the only safe haven they have to study or do homework is the public library. Librarians are soldiers in the battle for our place in the world, and in many cases they are getting the least amount of support our communities can offer.

We need to shift our national view of libraries not as luxuries, but as necessities.  When tragedy strikes in other nations, Americans are generous, but our libraries are being hit with a tsunami and there has been no call to action.  Staffs are being fired.  Hours are being cut. Doors are being closed. Buildings are being razed.  Kids are being left behind.  Futures are being destroyed.

Libraries are the backbone of our educational infrastructure, and they are being slowly broken by bankrupt municipalities and apathetic politicians. As voters and taxpayers, we have to demand that our local governments properly prioritize libraries.  As charitable citizens, we must invest in our library down the street so that the generations serviced by that library grow up to be adults who contribute to not just their local communities, but to the world. . . . 

Sadly, Salem is not bucking this trend, with libraries coming well after pavement in terms of funding.  As the Long Emergency continues the unwinding of the middle class, we're likely to discover that cities and towns that don't support libraries are soon run by people who don't use libraries and soon after that by people who don't understand why that matters, and quickly thereafter by the bunko artists who inevitably prey on people who don't understand how important libraries are.

Libraries are the escape valve for the students facing mediocre teachers and test-crazed administrators; the lifeline for the poor who want better for themselves and their children; for the teen who thinks that no one in the history of the universe has ever been so little understood or appreciated; for the unemployed workers who need to start a business and can't afford the advisors to tell them what the rules are; for the homeless who want some stability and a place where they can use the internet to try and keep their connection to the normal world from fraying even further, and, ultimately, libraries are treasure houses for the well-fed, well-employed, well-housed, and well-educated too, because these are exactly the people who use the library the most and who get the most value from the tiny slice of tax revenue that supports it.