Libraries Are America’s Lifelines. Leave Them Alone
— by Kenneth C. Davis, at Huffington.com
In case you haven’t heard, New York City’s public library systems — three separate library systems in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens — are once again under siege, on the chopping block, threatened with draconian cuts in the face of New York City’s Great Recession. (The cuts were outlined in an article in Library Journal.)
Library cuts in down times remind me of the classic line from Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects.” The public library is always suspect Number One when it comes to municipal budget cuts. And as librarians everywhere know, this is not a fact in New York City alone.
Underlying this reality are two simple facts. First, libraries do not have a vocal, powerful constituency. Unlike the police, teachers and firemen, they don’t have a potent union or benevolent association. There is no “Library Lobby” doling out campaign contributions. But far worse, libraries tend to be viewed by all too many people in power as a luxury.
In many of these minds, the public library is stuck with an antiquated image of stern ladies shushing noisy kids, retirees borrowing the latest bestsellers and — more recently — homeless folk camping out in a heated corner. They are all clichés. And dumb ones at that.
The public library is not just about borrowed books. It is about information — the great currency of our time. And the library has, by default, become the bridge in the digital divide because it offers free access to computers. Can you imagine in this digital day looking for a job, submitting a résumé or a college application, or searching for housing without your computer? For millions of people, the library is their laptop.
Then there is education. The library is the crucial backstop to the educational system, far beyond the fundamental notion of being a “homework helper” for a school kid with a science project. From learning to read, or speak English, to having a decent place to do schoolwork or doing graduate research, the library is still a cornerstone of an educated, enlightened America.