This past weekend, my library reopened in its new location. The place is beautiful, and despite all my pissing and moaning over the past three weeks, I am absolutely thrilled to have such a sweet freaking library in my town. Not to mention we now have a staff lounge so I no longer have to eat awkwardly in my car.
Being as it was a high-profile affair, politicians swarmed like sharks – Ribbon cutting! Speeches! Photographers! It’s like their P.R. wet-dream. They talked about all the work and money that the library needed, and how glad they were to see it all come to fruition. (My words, not theirs. Seriously, a third grader has a more eloquent vocabulary than these people.) But here’s the most maddening thing ever – some of the same people extolling the library’s virtues to the crowd had previously stated that “no one uses the library.” Or that our services are “obsolete.”
Funny, we didn’t seem so obsolete when there were constituents to glad-hand and cameras about. Nor did we seem obsolete to the absolute hordes of people rushing into the library. In fact, I think I can sum it up pretty well – Obsolete, my ass.
Now I know you will think I am biased; after all, I am going to grad school in the fall to become a librarian. Naturally, I want my chosen profession to stay around so I can pay off my loans to Sallie Mae without selling my left kidney. But it goes far deeper than personal finances.
It seems like every week, a new story hits about an attack against libraries in this country. New Jersey, my ancestral homeland, has been a front runner for trying to screw libraries. First it was my dickwad representative Scott Garrett trying to cut all federal funding to libraries. Happily, we shut his ass down after a massive outcry against the proposed plan. Then Chris Christie wanted to cut 74% from the state library (but millionaires needed a tax break!). Across the country, Los Angeles is trying to balance its school budget by cutting librarians from the payroll. So attorneys interrogated them in a random basement, forcing librarians to testify that their jobs are useful. SERIOUSLY, is this the goddamn Wizengamot? We’re just missing Dolores fucking Umbridge.
Several days after this story, Seth Godin posted a condescending blog entry about the future of the library. Apparently, we are just a warehouse for dead books. Librarians need to wake the eff up and do new and exciting stuff with data instead of guarding it like a dragon guards its gold. Libraries are over, bitches!
This blog: http://censoredgenius.blogspot.com/2011/05/fight-goes-on.html answers his reductive analysis with far more humor and intelligence than I could muster. But I’d like to pull a quote from her excellent response “But Americans, on our rapid descent from being a world power toward become the world’s bag boy, have lost sight of what has lasting value and moved on to what has recurring monthly fees.” That is what it all boils down to in my mind – the ignorance to look only at today’s issues, without considering the long-term trajectory.
Ok, so you close a library to close the budget gap. But you are also closing the door to an America that exists only in public libraries. More than any other American institution, libraries represent equality. If you’re a patron, I don’t care how much money you make, what ethnicity you identify with, or what gender constructs you prescribe to. You ask me a question; I will do my best to help you. I can think of no other institution that works even in theory like a public library.
My biggest problem lies with those who believe libraries are dead. Those who scoff and say libraries are obsolete, that all information is available on the internet. People who are so mired in their own lives that they are unable to look past their own privilege to think of people who actually need the library.
People who were laid off and looking for a new job, but can’t afford the internet. They need the library. Working parents who want their kids to have access to books and knowledge in a safe, welcoming environment. They need the library. Students who require assistance in finding an authoritative source. They need the library. People of all ages who are at the library every week, whether it’s for story time, the many interesting programs and workshops, or the free books. They can’t get enough of the damn library.
By shutting down libraries, we’re shutting down vital access to knowledge. And it’s especially devastating to hear about cuts in our nation’s poorest communities. Instead of giving people the resources they need, we take them away because politicians are obsessed with making it look like they are drawing a hardline against deficit spending.
We have a broken healthcare system, failing public schools, crumbling infrastructure, and an economy that was completely fucked by a bunch of rich assholes whose disregard for other humans is absolutely shocking. So yeah, America is a frustrating place in which to live. Despite all that, libraries have personally represented an America that I could be proud of – an institution in which equality is a tangible thing instead of a buzzword. A place where we put our money where our mouth is. But ideals are hard to uphold when the budget is tight, especially when people toss around the word obsolete.
After all, why should we fund that dinosaur known as unfettered access to knowledge when there are things like NASCAR to sponsor? Simply put, I believe information is the only way forward. Libraries provide an absolutely vital service to this country, and they are something worth funding and fighting for.
I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut:
“So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”
Amen, sir. Amen.
PS – The picture is from Urban Librarians Unite, a badass advocacy group based out of NYC. They are fighting to keep libraries in NYC opened and staffed. The picture is of a zombie walk they did to raise awareness. Yes, there are signs that read “Better Undead than Unread.” ❤