It Takes a City to Raze a Library

I heard the Mayor of Boston on the radio talking about libraries a few months back saying 'neighborhoods aren't about buildings, they're about people.'

Huh? Was the Mayor implying that one's neighbors would read to your children? Buy them books if you're laid off? Take in your elderly parents during the day? Let your kids use their computer if you can't afford one? Trust me, your neighbors and my neighbors (and I have terrific neighbors) are not planning to provide pre-school story hours, newspaper reading rooms, or lending libraries.

For many, libraries are the only safe haven around, and yet Boston, Massachusetts, Jacksonville, Florida, and Los Angles, California are just three of the cities considering closing libraries to deal with budget shortfalls.

That's bad news. Troubled and neglected kids can be saved by books -- and I don't use those words as hyperbole. I was raised by books, walking the twenty or so Brooklyn blocks it took to get to my neighborhood library branch. Like the steady family I'd wished I had, there it always was.

Books are the backbone of culture. Our elders and poor aren't downloading books unto their electronic readers. Are we as a country too broke to let our poorer neighbors learn? Because it's not the rich, or the children of the rich, or the solidly middle-class who need libraries in order to read, use the computer, research, have a warm and safe place to peruse the newspaper, have a destination for the elders, look for a job, meet other toddlers, and explore about the world outside their neighborhood. It's the poor. It's the working class. It's anyone and everyone who struggles.

Our economy is down. We need to cut back. Yes. But if you're a parent and your family loses half its' income, do you protect the person who greased your way into a country club membership? (Perhaps, um, akin to a campaign contributor's sinecure in a remote post in a hidden agency budget line?) Or do you protect the dues you pay for your children's afterschool program, ensuring they are safe while you're out looking for a job?

At this moment in my life I can buy the books I need -- and I mean need. For me, as for many, books are how I relax, learn, research, get to sleep, get through trauma, celebrate... they are right after shelter, food, and health care. But it wasn't long ago that I got 98% of my reading through the library, as did my children.

The beauty of books isn't just that they transport; they heal, they teach, and they soothe. On the loneliest of days, they ask no more than being picked up. In the worst of times, they stand by.

Our economy is down; thus people are out of work. Doesn't it make sense to protect (along with teachers, police, fire-fighters and health workers) the place where folks can (without cost) write their resumes, look for jobs, bring their children, pass the burden of unfilled hours, meet their neighbors, surf the web, learn for the future and learn from the past?

I do not believe that libraries are the only place we can cut in either a municipal or state budget, or that they should be in the first line for slashes. I do know it is an easy place to take a whack. Personally, I wish there were a box to check on tax forms to give extra dollars to libraries. I wish that every politician valued our libraries even a quarter as much as they seem to value campaign contributions.

Sometimes parents aren't equipped to raise children. Sometimes adult children aren't equipped to care for elderly parents. That's when the village should step in. That's why we have schools. And hospices. And libraries.

On, a popular book site, they have book 'giveaways.' Looking at the five giveaways ending soonest there are almost 5,000 people competing to win copies of these five books.

Seems to me that people want to read and learn. Seems to me we ought to capitalize on that.