Opinion » Commentaries

On the books

Support your local library��"and yourself, while you're at it


Go to the library.

That’s basically everything I set out to say to you today.

It’s simple, really. Just go to the library.

I don’t think I should have to make a case for why this is such a vitally important action for you to take, why an ongoing commitment to literacy, education, and access to knowledge is an excellent use of your time. I do, however, have more space to fill, so I might as well say a few words on the subject, because there are probably a few of you thinking, “Wait, what? Libraries? Those musty things are still around?”

Yes, they are very much still around, and they do more than you probably think. Various branches in our local Black Gold system offer the expected books and periodicals, as well as CDs (books and music) to fill your commutes with something other than talk radio, DVDs, and even video games. So if Gone With the Wind just isn’t your thing, you can check out Lego Indiana Jones for the Wii.

There are events for kids, computers for anyone to access, and resources available to people looking to better their lives. There are even actual, live, real, sentient human beings eager to help you find what you’re looking for.

And we want those humans to stick around. Like many institutions, libraries have faced their share of funding challenges in recent years. Their survival—even their ability to thrive—is our collective responsibility and benefit. The “State of American’s Libraries Report 2012,” referencing economic turmoil and grim headlines from the previous year, notes: “What became clear through it all was that amid the shifting winds of an economic storm, libraries continue to transform lives, adapting to and adopting new and emerging technologies, and experimenting with innovative and transformational ideas to provide services that empower patrons.”

In a summary in its report, the American Library Association noted good and bad, including a push to reach more underserved populations; funding cuts; challenges to lending ebooks, imposed by major publishers; and an uptick in libraries’ use of social media.

In this way, libraries sort of represent us all. Collectively, we’re muddling through the ups and downs of a system struggling to get back onto a comfortable track. In the report, ALA President Molly Raphael said, “[P]ublic libraries are also serving as a lifeline for people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances, providing technology training and online resources for employment, access to government resources, continuing education, retooling for new careers, and starting a small business.” She later pledged to vigorously defend intellectual freedom, a right to privacy, and open access to information.

What’s not to love about all that?

Friends occasionally blink in confusion when they hear that I picked up at the library that book I just read or movie I just saw; I realize their neurons are poking around some dusty, long-neglected pathways: “Oh yeah! Libraries!” It’s like suddenly remembering that carrots exist.

Actually, it’s probably more like rediscovering somersaults.

You probably did somersaults all the time as a kid. But you don’t do them much anymore. Aching joints aside, the simple flips just aren’t on your radar. But try one, and you’ll experience a familiar giddy rush.

That’s an imprecise simile, and I don’t mean to trivialize libraries by equating them with childhood tumbling exercises—though I expect a good many people see libraries as places for kids. I have nothing to base this on, no concrete studies or interviews, but my gut tells me that a few of you reading this consider libraries as places where book reports and school research projects began in the days before the Internet, where story time snares otherwise fidgety toddlers for a few minutes on a brightly colored rug, where college students cram for exams, their tabletops littered with notepaper and energy-boosting drinks.

Libraries are all those things. But they’re more, too.

I’m not going to quote statistics at you to prove my point, because numbers proving that visits and circulation are on the rise are just that: numbers.

I will, however, note this financial detail: According to the State of America’s Libraries report, California has decimated library resources. The previous year’s budget slashed away half of the $30.4 million going to public library programs that include support for inter-library loans and literacy instruction. Subsequently, all remaining funding for the programs was cut, a move that looks to extend into the 2012-2013 cycle.

The California Library Association has been diligent in reporting on committee and subcommittee members to whom you can send a note of funding encouragement. Visit cla-net.org to find the names and contact information for elected officials to whom you can e-mail or fax.

As I wrote this, I had the following checked out to me: 11 books for my children, my wife (she has her own card, but I occasionally pick up items I think she’ll like), and myself; four audio books for my frequent trips between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo; and a Fleet Foxes album.

I love that I can do this. I love that it costs me virtually nothing (there’s a charge for holds and inter-library loans, as well as late fees I unfortunately and scatter-brainedly incur far too often). I love that my 4-year-old jumps up and down in delight and my 2-year-old dances when I come through the door with a fresh stack of stories for them. I love that my girls fall asleep each night listening to everything from fantastical tales to science facts. I love that I fall asleep most nights with a book in hand.

I love that puppet shows and live animals make the rounds at branches throughout the county. I love that I always find something new to look at when I visit. I love that the adult summer reading program started June 1, and people who read eight books by the end of August get prizes. (Participating libraries are in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, Creston, Nipomo, Los Osos, Cayucos, and Santa Margarita).

I love my library.

Executive Editor Ryan Miller hopes to see you among the stacks. Send comments to rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

Add a comment