Monday, February 08, 2010

Why Do Libraries Matter?

I grew up in a small town (OK, Altamont) and the three most important places in shaping the adult I became were the library, my church (St. Lucy’s) and my elementary school. The fourth place was the Altamont Fairgrounds. If you are wondering, there was more to Altamont than just those lovely institutions and I could name them all, but that is not the point.

Both the public library and the elementary school library were very well used by me. I can still remember certain books that I came across and read, over and over again. When ever I smell old books I immediately conjure up the old Altamont Library on Maple Ave. I always thought that the wooden floors creaked from the weight of all those books. There was a threadbare rug in the children’s area surrounded by low shelves of books. By the time I was in junior high I looked on every shelf for books. I was in adult fiction, nonfiction, children’s and even teen books which were quite tame in comparison to today’s novels.

I watch our busy library (Voorheesville Public Library) and wonder why libraries are thought to be a place to help ease our budget crisis in New York State. We are busier than ever; our small budgets are squeezing out as much as we can buy for our patrons; people need our services; and I think of the library as the great equalizer in our democracy. Everyone is welcome, there is no fee (yes, we are tax supported) and we’ll even help you find whatever you need – from medical information to a tax form. Many people think that books will be gone in a few years. People will read on many different devices, but that doesn’t mean books will stop being published, too. Children learning to read can take out as many books as they want. They love stories and they want to learn how to find their stories. Parents need books to read to their children in a special time together. They also need books to help them be the best parents they can be. Teens love books, but they don’t always have time to read for pleasure. When an exciting movie comes out, though, teens want to participate in the books that preceded the movie.

What a waste to only “buy” books. I have a large library of my own at home, but I couldn’t ever have purchased all the books that I’ve ever read. Information can’t be found only on “the internet.” We need gatekeepers to help us find good, useful, and reliable information. Oh, that would be the librarian! Entertainment that patrons may never have an opportunity to see or hear on their own, is also part of library programs.

I would like to see growth in funds for libraries, not cuts, as in the governor’s budget proposals. I would like every legislator to think about the important places in their lives and remember influential books that shaped their thinking. Somewhere along their busy lives, I would bet a library was there to serve them. Their knowledge grew because of a library. And they all take it for granted now. I think today’s young people should have the same opportunity to know the importance of information, stories and service all found under one roof – a local library.

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