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Keeping Libraries Open–from the WSJ–check the comments, too

Posted by Editor on July 15, 2010

By CYNTHIA CROSSEN in the WSJ

I love my library. Now it looks like budget cuts are going to reduce hours and staff. Is there anything I can do?

—L.C., Washington

A while ago, I went to my library and picked up “The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman (breezy, slender) and “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes (magnificent, heartbreaking). I subsequently exchanged them for “Solar” by Ian McEwan (not his best but good fun anyway) and “The Long Song” by Andrea Levy (a wonder).

I returned those and borrowed “A Week in December” by Sebastian Faulks and “Ask Alice” by D. J. Taylor. And for all of these new hardcover books, no one asked me for a dime (although this library is privately funded, and I contribute to it).

Free libraries are a privilege some of our forebears fought hard for. When they were first proposed in England in the mid-19th-century, opponents argued that libraries would give the lower classes ideas about ephemera like equality. Later, critics worried that they were a waste of time.

“Whenever I have entered any of our Public Libraries,” an English doubter complained, “I have found…every chair occupied—in nine cases out of 10 by loafing office boys or clerks, who were using their masters’ time for devouring all the most trivial literary trash.” Those chairs are still full, though now they’re more likely to be occupied by people looking for jobs, studying English or writing a term paper. But public libraries are a tempting quarry for budget cutters. Florida’s state legislature recently proposed reducing its public-library budget from a lean $23 million to zero. Zero! (The budget was ultimately restored to $21 million.) Beginning July 6, all 73 branches of Los Angeles’s libraries were closed two days a week instead of one.

“People here in Los Angeles are upset about the mayor’s proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries…This could affect as many as nine people,” joshed Jay Leno recently. Actually, it will affect millions of people, but you can see the problem: Libraries and their users are invisible to people like Mr. Leno’s joke writers, among many others.

So raise your voices, library lovers. Raise money, too. Donate your time. Talk up your library with your friends and neighbors, especially if one of them is Jay Leno. Describing my feelings now, the historian Barbara Tuchman wrote 25 years ago, “Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.”

Read post and comments here:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704103904575336821358864244.html

Visit ALA’s I Love Libraries website as well!

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