By: The David
Access to books and public libraries are forever linked in my mind. I could be blind-folded, yet still I would recognize the muted sounds and the smell of so many books, of so much paper sitting there ready and available to anyone who wishes to take advantage of them.
For me, starting before I was old enough to be in school, and continuing throughout the years when I was growing up and to today, books have been my key to the world and all the knowledge that is out there. I have been a voracious reader throughout my life. We were poor during those early years. There was not money to purchase books, except for maybe at Christmas time when they would be wrapped and under the tree. But Benjamin Franklin had introduced the concept of the Free Public Library. The Public Library had flourished. As our country grew toward it’s 1950’s stature, the Public Library System had grown along with it.
Along with access to Public Education, the Public Library has been seen as the right of every individual. Everyone could receive a Passport to wherever they chose to travel and that passport came in the form of a library card. The child could adventure with “Robinson Crusoe,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Robin Hood” and whomever else they chose to spend hours with. In the spending of those hours the imagination is fired and it grows. It is the spending of those hours that renders the reader toward a thirst for new literary friends, for new adventure and for new areas to explore.
Books! Volumes that used to be very affordable are now expensive, and out of reach for too many. We have also entered the era of the electronic book, with devices to receive these books costing in the hundreds of dollars. The market-place is pricing itself out of the range of so many.
The public library has grown to include access to the Internet, to films and to the finest music the world has produced. As with the individual, the cost of its resources has also grown. But libraries continue to provide these resources and for many, it is their only real and available access. As the unemployment rate has increased, and as the discretionary income has decreased for so many, we have a situation where the money to buy books, CDs and DVDs and on a greater scale, computers is not available. The only realistic option for these people is their public library or the library at their schools.
The Public Library System as well as school libraries and those in academia are wedged in a vice of pressures exerted from two areas. As stated above, increased costs are a factor, but even more serious is the threatened and actual loss of funding. The American Library Association estimates that in the past year the various library systems in the United States have lost over $50,000,000.00 dollars in State funding.
Federal funding has not been able to keep pace and plug the holes created by reduced monies on the state level. Both Federal and State monies are being diverted to areas that are deemed more necessary or, as is often the case, politically more sexy than is the feeding of the appetite for knowledge.
State and city governments are faced with failing infrastructures and burgeoning health care costs for the indigent and those with a subsistence income. The share of public education costs borne by local and State government continues to rise. At the same time, the Federal Government continues to support two wars on foreign soil, some very good programs, but also some pork that greedy politicians insert into even the best bills for no other reason than to make themselves more electable.
We also live in a time where much of the population seems to be feeding the idea that “I’ve got mine, so the hell with you.” We see this daily in our newspapers where large segments of the population are enjoying their experience as protesters against a government that, horror of horrors, uses their tax money to assist the poor. What kind of terrible concept is that? Imagine, seeing to the needs of the poor!
So Government cuts those programs that will generate the fewest complaints and the least noise from constituents. Unfortunately and on all levels, libraries fall into that category. They are a benefit to society, the value of which will not be realized until they are erased or are no longer “free” to all peoples.
If the free public library systems are compromised we will be shutting the door that leads to what very well might be the only route available to increased knowledge for a growing, financially hard-pressed segment of society.
The only viable deterrent is for all persons who care about the availability of this resource to make a noise that will be louder than those who oppose funding for government programs that benefit libraries and the arts. Write to your State and local elected officials to protest cuts and call for the restoration of funds diverted from support of these areas. On the Federal level, write or telephone your Representative or Senator and demand that they vote yes to adequately fund the “Library Services and Technology Act” and the “Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program.”
If we do not act, we will be left to mourn in a society where access to knowledge will only be available to the moneyed, and the door to self actualization for so many will be slammed shut.