Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Library is Open! Hurray!

After two long, grueling months without a library down the street, I have been rewarded.

My library has opened again — to the acclaim of all. The library had a party, and literally hundreds of people showed up.

In the age of Mega-Bookstore-Cafes and Internet saturation, I worry about the humble library. It's a municipal institution, and most people think "municipal" is not sexy. And while going to other libraries to get my book fix, I saw that to be true in older edifices: low ceilings, close bookshelves, fluorescent lighting, few chairs, even fewer tables. And no coffee or cookies for sale — not that our lard-fanny society should miss a Starbucks or hundred....

However, if my newly opened library is any indication, modern libraries are evolving. Now you can bring coffee in if it's in a sealed cup. There are easy chairs, wingback chairs, high ceilings, pleasant lighting and ambiance. There are DVDs of the latest movies, CDs of the latest books, new lending strategies for popular books, expanded hours and a selection that should make even the heartiest bibliophile salivate.

The problem is that we pour money into Borders without a second thought, but we cringe at the idea of doing the same to our libraries. Think about it: in these economic times, when the R-word is being bandied about and politicians are trying to think of way to "save" the economy, think about what gets cut first in government budgets. Libraries often are on the cutting block. We expect librarians and library staff to work longer hours and provide expanded service and product but somehow expect less, while we keep expecting more.

I'm not saying there should be a "tip jar" at the checkout counter of every library. (I hate those things.) What I am saying is that when budget time comes around for your municipality — which is just about now for those with a July 1 fiscal year start date — make sure government leaders know what you support. More importantly, make sure you know how the government is spending your money. Get a copy of the city or county budget and read it cover to cover. Find how how much (or how little) the state and feds provide. Talk to your elected representatives and your municipal leaders. Know what the government values, and make sure it matches the values of your community.

From what I have seen today, when hundreds of people thumbed through magazines, sat on the floor with their children to listen to the flute duo or stood in line to check out books, libraries are very highly valued. Make sure your government agrees with you. After all, it's your community.

Now go check out a book and celebrate the public lending library. I will see you there.

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