Once again, noise is being made in my community about closing certain library branches. This happened a few years ago and at that time, it was my “home” branch that they wanted to close. This time it isn’t my branch, but others. Regardless of which branch it is, the closure (or potential closure) of a library is always sad news. I can see how, from a budget and political perspective, libraries are easy targets. The government needs to save money and a library isn’t viewed as “essential” in that same way that public safety or social safety nets are. It seems like an easy cut.
Those of us who use the library regularly, though, know that these public spaces are essential. They provide resources and information that many wouldn’t have access to were it not for the library. Computers, free internet access, reference publications, free meeting spaces, tutoring, and free classes are just a few of the things that libraries offer. Not to mention the books, audio books, DVD’s, CD’s, and the ability to get materials from all over the country through inter-library loans. Libraries are necessary, but too often many people don’t realize their value until the politicians put them on the chopping block.
In a later piece, I’m going to offer suggestions for actually fighting a closure. Today, though, I’m going to offer some ideas on how you can show support for your library and help protect it so that hopefully it never ends up on the chopping block.
- Actually use the library. Too many people never use their library, yet they scream about it when it gets closed or threatened with service cutbacks. When politicians start looking at which branches to close, they look at circulation figures to determine which branches are being used and which are not. If you want to keep your library alive you need to actually use it. Make sure you get a card and check out books and materials. If you’re going there every day but only using the computers to check email, you’re not helping the circulation figures. You can also use it as a meeting space for organizations and groups, and make sure you attend some of the events and classes. While this doesn’t help the circulation figures, it does help demonstrate the need for the space and the value that the community places on it.
- Donate materials. When you have a book, DVD, or CD you no longer want, give it to the library. They can either add it to the collection or sell it to raise funds. If you want to buy books to give to the library, you can find cheap books at thrift stores, used book stores, clearance racks at regular bookstores, school book fairs, and yard sales. You can also donate magazine subscriptions. (Lots of local businesses do this in our library because the plastic jacket that protects the magazine sports a label that says, “Subscription Donated by Business X. The business gets a tax deduction and some advertising.)
- Donate money. Most libraries accept monetary donations outright, and some may sell memberships in “Friends of the Library” programs. You can also name a library as a beneficiary of your will. If you’re very wealthy, you can donate a large sum of money and dictate how it is to be spent (i.e., on a new library, a new wing of an existing library, or to create a specific type of collection). The less reliant the library is on the government for funds, the less likely it is to be cut.
- Apply for public money. There are many awards, grants, prizes, and other sources of funds that can be used to help your library. Sometimes these are sponsored by corporations, think tanks, or other organizations. Basically, they give the winner a sum of money to be donated to a charity, school, or other public institution of the winner’s choosing. Sometimes you have to actually fill out a grant proposal and other times you just have to get lucky and win a sweepstakes. In any case, it can’t hurt to enter and then give the money to the library if you win.
- Patronize book sales and other money-raising events. Many libraries have book sales where they sell off old materials or excess donations. Books are usually cheap and the money goes to buy new materials or to help with other expenses. Libraries or their supporting organizations will also host other fundraising events such as auctions, holiday parties, or “dinner with an author”-type events. If you can afford to attend, do so. The money you pay for admission or to bid on items will benefit the library.
- Volunteer. If you can’t give money or materials, give your time. Volunteering to shelve or check out books can help if staff is cut. If you feel that there isn’t enough programming, it may be because the library doesn’t have the staff to deal with it. Volunteer to put together and host a special program or two. If you’re tech savvy, teach a class on how to use an e-reader with the library system, or teach computer job search techniques. If you’re a writer or know one, offer to schedule a reading or teach a creative writing class. Ask what needs to be done and where the staff is spread too thin and volunteer to help out.
- Remind your politicians. Don’t wait until the library is threatened with closure to email or write your representatives. Tell them often how much your library means to you and what services you find valuable. Keep it in the front of their minds that the library is necessary to the community. Maybe then when the subject of budget cuts comes up, someone will say, “Yeah, we can’t cut the library because I know it’s a valued resource. I hear it from my constituents all the time.”
Libraries are too valuable to be cut, but many politicians just don’t see their worth. Help make it obvious just how valuable the library is to you and do everything you can to support it on a day-to-day basis. A well-used and appreciated library is less likely to even be brought up as an object of closure. Don’t wait until the cuts are announced to show how much you care about your library. By then it may be too late.
(Photo courtesy of chaworth)
I have two friends who are professional librarians, and both have commented to me on how much the role of libraries are changing and evolving in the digital age. Every person has a giant reference portal right at their PC , and libraries need to adjust by employing professionals, not volunteers, who can aid research in ways most amateurs probably wouldn’t know about. This means fewer branch libraries, but ones staffed with skilled librarians and the resources to subscribe to many research tools that are out of private people’s budget.
Aside from changing and evolving the reference aspect, physical libraries can also offer computer time for those who don’t have other access, as well as the paid tools they can carry for those who can’t afford them.
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