Libraries are under attack again. This always happens during troubled economic times. Those in the profession feel embattled, as politicians claim they need to cut funding in order to close budget gaps. Public librarians are encouraged to retire and then are not replaced. School librarians are cut and those remaining are forced to cover more than one building. In California for example, a state which, according to Debra Lau Whelan, “has the highest librarian-to-student ratio in the nation,” (one librarian for every 5,965 students), school librarian positions are being slashed. The state’s school libraries will either be closed or run by clerical staff. Collections are certain to deteriorate and library programs and students’ test scores will suffer. (School Library Journal, online, March 15, 2011). Similar cuts are happening all over the country.
I have worked in libraries for twenty-four years and am angered when I hear how we as a country spend too much money on libraries. The fat that needs to be trimmed has to be sliced from libraries. I’m always perplexed when I hear this stupid argument. What those in the position of putting together budgets never seem to understand is that when workers are laid off, business at public libraries picks up. These unemployed citizens seek out the resources at the library in order to become employed again. Often they have had to eliminate their home internet access because they barely have the money to buy food. They need the internet access that the public libraries provide in order to research and apply for jobs. They also – yes – borrow books, magazines, and videos. Again, these library users aren’t spending their limited unemployment benefits at bookstores. Even artists, such as lyricist Glenn Slater, use the library because of its resources and dependably quiet work space.
School libraries are havens for kids whose families are struggling. The school librarian (library media specialist, teacher-librarian, whichever you prefer) is often the one person with whom a student can interact on a regular basis on topics other than academics. My favorite request from a student is always, “I need a good book to read.” One of my students recently came to me to complain about the ending of Mockingjay. She was quite upset about what happened to the main characters, as if these were actual people in her life. She knew I cared as much as she did because I was the one who introduced her to the Hunger Games series. Many school librarians have these same conversations on a daily basis. Isn’t this the kind of enthusiasm we want to see our students having for books? How would they get this if they lose their school librarian? I feel sick for the students in California who will go through their school careers surrounded by aging library collections, if they even go to the library at all.
The school librarian is also typically the first professional in the building who has a handle on the latest technologies, and is driven to teach their students 21st Century Skills and to help their classroom colleagues do the same. Classroom teachers are pressured to integrate technology into their lessons, but few have the gumption or time to investigate and learn educational uses of technology. When they turn to the school librarian, they know they have a teaching partner who has the knowledge to bring their students’ skills into the 21st century.
Now more than ever we need to support our libraries. All libraries. As writers, we can help by contacting the local public library and volunteering to do a read aloud. School librarians would love for you to offer to conduct a mini-workshop for young authors. Another way to show support is to write a letter to your legislator or other representative expressing your concerns about funding cuts to libraries. Even a letter to the editor of you local newspaper would boost a librarian’s morale. Do what you can, but do something. You owe it to your readers!
Let me know how you have been influenced by libraries, either while growing up, or while pursuing your writing career. I’m also interested in your efforts to support your local library. Thanks for stopping by.