I’m looking forward to the annual observance of National Library Week, April 9-15.
Longtime readers know I’m a fan of libraries. Libraries matter to people around the world, and not only provide access to books, but community resources and important tools for learning and development, with assistance from professional librarians.
I’ve visited libraries across the U.S. and around the world. Some are grand edifices with long, illustrious histories; others are in cities, towns, remote villages or even simple boxes for sharing books in residential neighborhoods.
Every community is different, and libraries reflect the character of a community. They range from the sprawling diversity of a metropolis like Los Angeles, whose Central Library is the hub for a system of 72 branch libraries ….
… to a place like Las Vegas, New Mexico, population 14,000, where the 1904 Carnegie Library in its lovely square still serves the town.
The Carnegie Foundation enabled the construction of 2,509 library buildings around the world between 1883 and 1929. I’ve written about a number of Carnegie libraries, listed in “Categories” in the right-hand column. This year, during National Library week, I’ll write about 3 Carnegie libraries still serving their small communities: one in southern California and 2 in rural Indiana.
The Carnegie libraries have a special place in my universe, because both the library in my hometown (still serving the town) and the one at my university (also extant, converted to other uses after my time there) were built with Carnegie funds.
As I’m always at pains to say, my admiration for Mr. Carnegie’s libraries isn’t unalloyed by awareness of his faults. His mills and works operated on harshly capitalist principles; human concerns took a back seat to profit and efficiency, sometimes to a horrific degree.
Still, Carnegie had a fierce appreciation for the role that access to books (hard-won, for him) played in his rise from abject poverty to extraordinary success. He acquired one of the world’s largest fortunes through ruthless business practices, but he dedicated an immense portion of it toward learning and intellectual advancement: much of it to libraries. Let some other arbiter judge the net balance. Hundreds of the libraries still operate, like this one in Ephraim, Utah.
The reason I’m writing this prelude to Library Week is that there’s something to be done before it arrives.
I ask all my U.S. readers to take action before April 3.
Another wealthy and powerful individual in the U.S. is now in a position to influence the support for libraries. He, however, is determined to end support for them.
The president of the United States proposed a fiscal year 2018 federal budget that would end federal funding for libraries, closing the principal federal agency that does the work, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). While libraries receive funds from a variety of sources, federal support is one component — unless the president has his way.
The House of Representatives apportions funds for the IMLS through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and supports the provision of school books and materials for the country’s poorest children through Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL). The president’s proposed budget terminates both programs.
The president proposes, but Congress disposes. Legislators are our representatives, not the president’s. Time is short before Congress acts. Call your representative and encourage them to sign two letters of support now being circulated: for the LSTA and the IAL. If you can’t call, send an email.
You can find your Representative’s contact information by entering your ZIP Code at the following link:
There is a civic principle at stake, not just an economic one: Are we a nation of businesses and profit centers, or are we a nation of people? Do we value things beyond what contributes to some bottom line, perhaps to the intellectual welfare of our fellow citizens?
Representatives need to hear from you by April 3. Your phone call will probably be answered by a friendly staffer. Identify yourself by name, as a registered voter in the XXXXX Zip Code, thank the Representative for his/her ongoing work, and encourage them to sign the two letters being circulated supporting the funding of the LSTA and the IAL. It takes one minute.
I look forward to celebrating National Library Week with you. With your help, we’ll still be supporting them.
For my readers in other countries, you might send a note to any U.S. citizens in your circle, bringing this matter to their attention.
You can show your support for the IMLS by tweeting the hashtag #SaveIMLS. The president likes tweets.
Do you have observations about the importance of libraries? Please leave a comment.
© Brad Nixon 2017. Little Free Library photo © Marcy Vincent 2017. Lebanon, IN and Royal Center, IN library photos © John Nixon 2017. Ephraim, UT photo © Willard Nixon; all used by kind permission.
Here is more information about supporting libraries through the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services: http://www.districtdispatch.org/2017/03/presidents-budget-proposal-eliminate-federal-library-funding/
Below are links to my blog posts about the libraries mentioned above: