Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When Does a Library Cease to Be a Library?

Annika is at the library. I dropped her there, though she usually walks the 6 blocks, as it is a delightfully oppressive 101 degrees outside. Our library is commonly known as the coldest place in the village, with air conditioners pumping hard to keep the reading areas at about 55. No kidding. Annika will head up to the young adult reading area, where incredibly comfortable chairs are placed among the shelves, and where no young adults are ever seen lounging, unless they are my young adult children. I kid you not.

I love our library. I love the librarians, the volunteers, the pages who work there, and for the most part, I like the book selections that are available. I have been a "Friend" of the library from time to time, and when the children were younger, they participated in many programs, from story time for the youngest, to various crafts (filling in for the lack of craftiness here at home), to the babysitting class for 12 year olds that frightened Libby out of her wits with tales of choking babies and bleeding toddlers. When the children were very young, our library had a small concert series featuring a local quartet.

The stories were read by the paid librarians, but I believe the other programs were run by volunteers. As I understand, anyone may present a program at a public library, as long as the program is open to the public. And perhaps these are services that a library should provide.

In the next village, which no doubt received a massive state grant for its library, the facility includes a 300 seat theater, two smaller recital rooms, and more. Programs for everyone, from babies book time to senior driving refreshers are taught. Full theatrical productions take place. Professional musicians give educational concerts with pre-concert talks. Oh, and they have books, too. In fact they have one of the largest collections in the area.

But a typical library is not just a place to find books anymore. There are DVDs. Where our local library used to charge a nominal fee--usually a dollar--for borrowing a DVD, all media are now free. The librarians complain to me about grandmas dragging children out of the library with an armful of DVDs, while having told the children firmly that they may not take out books. I have witnessed this myself. I have seen children run to the shelves only to be told, "No books today!" No books?? Isn't this a library?



Just read this online at School Library Journal: Cuts Hit Library Serving Kids With Autism. It seems that New Jersey's Governor Christie has proposed to cut the state budget's contribution for libraries in NJ by 74%. Draconian, or not? Should states be funding local libraries? And what precisely needs to be funded? (A librarian once told me that all fines and fees go into the local village budget, just like parking tickets and meter money, not back to the library...perhaps that ought to change?) It seems as though the library ought to have few expenses: Staff, maintenance, and purchasing. Volunteers back up the staff and work on other programs, right?

The library in the SLJ newsletter provides services for an unknown number of autistic children. The library director claims, "Our work with individuals on the spectrum will continue despite our need to balance our budget." (Good on them!!) The folks working in this program are volunteers, many of them on the autism spectrum themselves. Heck, their book club for autistic teens doesn't even meet in the library...it meets at Panera. So, the program is run by volunteers, and does not meet in the library. How will the program suffer from cuts in the state budget?

The library in the piece has had to cut back in some areas, including staffing, but is dealing with the cuts in a reasonable way. It is clear from the emotional headline, though, that SLJ has a political agenda. But for those of us who do read past the headline, there really is nothing related to the autism service that will be harmed. So perhaps SLJ has ceased to advocate for reading, and is simply advocating for money, using people with autism as an emotional tool to push their politics. After all, if one can read, one knows that the headline distorts the truth. So, have libraries ceased to be places that encourage reading?

1 comment:

Annette said...

I wish the library would cut the summer reading program. They give away so many prizes ($$$) for reading just about anything that once the program is over, there is a lag time when the kids in our house will stop reading because there is no compensation! Prior to the program, reading for reading's sake was its own reward!

Oh, and of course, the local public schools have the books read by enrolled students counted and posted. The Catholic school my children attended was not listed, nor would their homeschool be (if I were to allow them to particpate), notwithstanding the fact that my two children alone would give the entire public school a run for its money. THAT Would be embarassing, wouldn't it? But I digress...