Ode to Libraries

Carnegie Free LibraryI often insist to people who ask about my early education that Catholic school was just fine for preparing me in the ways of the three R’s, even if I did believe, upon high school graduation, that the world consisted of Catholics, Jews, and protesters. I could diagram my sentences, perform passable algebraic calculations, type 85 words per minute, and name every state capitol city (Trenton! Montpelier! Madison!). But more importantly I had a curiosity for learning and wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. For while parochial school had some fine qualities for me the student, it certainly lacked in other areas, like its library.

I read through most of the sections by 5th grade, and I only started at that school as a third-grader. Soon enough I was pestering my mother to get a Princeton Public Library card, and devouring books on maritime history, the American Civil War, young adult fiction, and anything by Stephen King. Now there were too many books for me to read, but I took that as a challenge instead of demotivation. Nothing suited a precocious child more than the idea that the world’s knowledge is just at their fingertips.

Libraries today face an almost dystopian future—local funding cuts across the country have left their budgets at little more than nominal levels, many libraries have severely reduced hours of service, or no full-time employees, or very little money to get new books. In communities across the country, strapped counties and cities have pulled money out of libraries so they can continue other services like law enforcement and waste disposal. But what are we losing as a nation without a strong free library system?

minneapolis public libraryHere are just a few of the benefits of libraries and what they do for their local communities:

  • They offer free Internet access
  • They have the latest in fiction and popular nonfiction
  • They often have a notary public on site
  • They house local history and often, special collections about the area
  • They host reading hours and events for children
  • They help instill a love of reading and learning for the next generation
  • They often assist job seekers
  • They have a wide range of periodicals
  • They often have agreements with other library systems so small town users have access to larger collections from other places
  • They have DVDs and music CDs
  • They may have reference librarians who can help with research or deeper information needs
  • They have good spaces for reading and writing
  • They often have meeting rooms that the public can schedule
  • Did I mention the free books?

There has been no time in my life when I didn’t have a library card in my wallet, except when I was a college student, and then I had access to more books than ever, what with Syracuse University’s million-plus collection at Bird Library (not to mention the other five libraries on its campus at the time). While we moan about what government doesn’t do for us and how all of the politicians seem to hate actual people, let’s remember libraries and real open access. Nothing can make the playing field of economic privilege level, but libraries can flatten it out a bit.

Here in Walla Walla there’s a storm brewing because the city and county libraries, which decades ago agreed to support each other when they could—this included sharing some budget windfalls—are now arguing over a $3 million surplus held by the county when the city could use some of that money to support its library services. Instead the county wants to build a new library building with the money. County commissioners, who are not in direct control of the rural district library board, asked the board to put the project on hold, in light of so much public outrage at the plan. Complicating this discussion is the belief that the county library board kept these funds secret from the entire community while it brewed its project for the new facility, and when the city library sorely needed sustaining funds. Surely this impasse is not helpful for the readers of the region, and even though it abets discussions around funding and budgets, it distracts from a fuller conversation that we need to have regarding library services.

For me, I want my kid to have the same excitement about reading and experiencing new worlds via books that I had in my youth. I hope the country can find a way to keep libraries going and not politicize this issue, like so many others. I love you, library. Here is a more proper ode to you. Thank you, library, for making me smart(er).

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: ponderings, Pop Culture


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

2 Comments on “Ode to Libraries”

  1. Nicoline
    August 14, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    One of the reasons why we particularly love the place we live is its great public library system! They usually get the stuff I ask them to add to the collection (though not, I’m sorry to say, your memoir) and they’ve been most helpful in locating books that I needed to research my book on Cleopatra III.

    Before libraries went all computerized and stuff, I used to find books in which the borrowing date hadn’t expired yet on the shelf, turn them in (again) and get a token with which I could get another book, because the three juvenile fiction and non-fiction books that any one kid was allowed to borrow at one time just didn’t do it for me. If I picked the right librarian, I could get away with borrowing books from the adult section, too. I distinctly remember reading “The Wanderers” at age 10 or 11.

  2. Thomas
    August 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    The agreement was never for the libraries to support one another unfortunately. I’ll preface this by saying I am a county resident, and this is a mess. But what people are over-looking or ignoring is that the Rural Library was paying almost $200k for rural users to have access to the city library.

    About 1700 people held dual cards. As part of this deal the City Library had access to ALL our (rural) books and media, and their patrons could use our facilities as they wanted. What should have been a mutual relationship was very one-sided.

    As a rural tax payer (My money goes into the rural library system, city tax payers’ money does not) this one sided “Deal” stank. I’ve been trying to talk the board into dumping the relationship since the negotiations started. It’s not a healthy relationship, it’s an abusive one.

    I feel for the City Library, they are getting shafted by the City Council. The taxes that Walla Walla Collects on sales (my purchases even…) go into a “general fund” and the city library has to Oliver Twist for their money. The rural citizens pay an actual “Library tax” that goes straight to the library, and our library has been a great steward of our money.

    Which brings me to the real issue: the rural library is sitting on about $3 million dollars that is ear marked for building a transfer center/library/administration building and the green-eyed monster has seized some Walla Walla Residents pretty hard. The “Rural Library Users Coalition” wants that money to be put into the Walla Walla City Library. A library with no parking, that is going to have to use eminent domain to expand. It’s too small. And the kicker is the city residents that are complaining don’t have a say in how our (rural) tax money goes. It’s ours.

    The handful of people who are actual rural residents are in the South Gate area and have a valid complaint. There’s no library for them. So the Rural Library put in one at the Plaza marketplace… Apparently that’s too “ghetto” for them. Our local branch is in a “temporary” building that’s been here for 20 years and has been too small for 15 of them. But we make do because we trust the library board to do good by us and they have and will.

    Now, while the South Gater’s will complain about the poor state of the City library and talk about annexing them together, what they won’t say is they want the Rural District to Annex into the City Library… which isn’t going to happen. I’m for cutting relations with the City myself. But the plan as I’ve been told is to let heads cool and revisit annexation in 2 years. Which is fair.

    Now the South Gater’s could add about 100k or so to the City’s budget if they pushed for another type of annexation…annexing all the property south of Walla Walla proper to the Oregon border into Walla Walla. But they won’t do that….

    South Gate is a very well-to-do neighborhood containing a country club and many, many nice, valuable homes… They won’t pay the higher city land taxes.

    It’s a mess. I love my library and I’ve been part of it since I was a school child, and I really don’t my awesomely managed, frugal and strong library victimized by one that’s been neglected and abused and is bitter because of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: