Wednesday, May 12, 2010

For the Love of the Library

A sign of the times outside a local library in New Jersey.

Over the weekend, I was enjoying dinner at Brooklyn's Brick Oven Pizzeria in Ridgewood with my parents when I had the most delightful sighting: a little boy reading a book as he was walking out of the restaurant. His father had a book in hand too. Like father, like son, in the best sense. Not long after, a family sat down and a little girl was attached to her gadget the entire time. That sight, not so delightful, but much more frequent to see a child glued to electronics over a book. I recalled a cartoon I saw in which a young child asks, "Mommy, can you text me a bedtime story?"

In a tamer Carrie Bradshaw moment, "It got me to thinking" about the wonders of a good book, so good in fact, that you have to walk and read at the same time, like the little boy did. Remember Blind Melon's words in No Rain, "All I can do is read a book to stay awake, and it rips my life away but it's a great escape." And with books on my mind, I couldn't help think of my beloved library.

Libraries in New Jersey (as in other states) are under attack, with Governor Chris Christie proposing to slash 74% of their state funding. Local newspapers having been covering this important news story almost daily. Why is it so important?

An op/ed piece in The Record, Libraries Matter, opined this:

"Public libraries, public schools, small businesses, police, fire departments and hospitals, these are the cornerstones of our democracy." They go on, "Doctors pledge to care for the sick. Librarians' work is to care for the mind, which means enlarging a person's field of learning." As I've lamented before, our society seems to so often pursue vanity and a ridiculous obsession with a youthful appearance with such vigor, while only tamely (at best) seeking wisdom and expanding our minds. The libraries help us in our goals of achieving the latter.

As someone who doesn't relate at all to some people's obsession with constantly upgrading their cell phone, TV, and other gadgets to the next best thing, I cheered on The Record's columnist Bruce Lowry's words in "In praise of libraries."

"In our world a library card doesn't carry the same cachet as an iPhone, but for some of us it is just as valuable. Like the Social Security card, it is a constant in our lives, that piece of personal luggage we would not think of leaving behind.

My driver's license may help me navigate the realities of daily life, but the library card provides escape.

In these days of economic hardship for so many, the library is a place the unemployed find answers and the overstressed find calm."

I could not have said it better. In the Libraries Matter piece, one commenter, JGrace, said this: "Its time to close these patronage mills. If you want to get or read a book go to AMAZON.COM AND LEAVE OUR WALLETS ALONE."

Which got me to thinking even more: what if everyone had to purchase the books, magazines, and newspapers they rely on the library for, especially for avid readers? In addition to the impact on our wallets, what would be the environmental toll of that? How many trees and precious resources are spared through this communal sharing?

Singer Tori Amos praised librarians, the gate-keepers into a never-ending universe of knowledge, saying "I've always thought that librarians know where the information is hidden." Librarians should be revered for their service to the community. Like too many people, they are undervalued.

Please visit Save My NJ Library to learn more.


Cate said...

How awful! Aside from the environmental aspect of everyone just buying all the books they want to read, I think it would be interesting to look at the effect on learning in general. If I had to buy all of the books I read, I would read significantly less, and be much less learned in the process.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Sadly, educational worth is not measurable to the state the way sales tax dollars are. Our governor also had the idea to keep malls in Bergen County open Sunday (to the dismay of small business owners, who would have to work seven days a week to compete). Lessen the debt of the state by increasing the debts of the people.

Learning is a life-long process that doesn't end with a high school or college diploma, and libraries are a vital service. And as workers are more pressured than ever and economic instability reigns, public libraries, as well as public parks, provide a healthy sense of calm and escape.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

I was so proud of my town when we managed to keep one of our libraries open after the threat of closure from budget cuts. The public outcry was stellar. What's best is that it was my(!) neigbhorhood library, which is next to a park with a very large homeless population. Instead of the "leave our wallets alone!" crap, we had a bunch of concerned citizens come out, wanting to make sure that we not only had access to resources but that the homeless would still have a place to go to during the day, etc.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

What an inspiring story! It really does pay to speak up. Our voices need to be heard by our elected leaders throughout the year, not just on election day.

It's fascinating that some think if they don't use a service personally, they shouldn't have to contribute to the public good. Should I not have to pay a dime for schools if I don't have children in them, or for services like the fire department if I’ve never used them?