Libraries, Sacred in Society, Scorned in Budgets
As I little girl, I was not a big reader, and much to my mother’s chagrin, I spent little time delving into my picture books. Despite this, I will never forget my first library card, a card that later sat expired in my wallet until I left home for college. Having my very own library card somehow made reading more fun, and the library became something sacred.
Today libraries are for more than just borrowing books. Between providing access to internet and information services to patrons and putting on educational workshops and afterschool programs, libraries are key in gathering and disseminating information throughout communities.
Nationally, according to the American Library Association (ALA), seven out of every ten people use public libraries, five times the number of people who annually attend professional and college football, hockey, and baseball games.
In Minnesota, and across the country, library budgets have been continually cut, even as their services have become more important.
According to the Northeast Service Cooperative, 71% of Minnesota’s libraries say they are the only source of free computer and internet access in their communities, a number that is higher in rural areas. Despite this statistic, 60% of libraries claim that their internet access is not sufficient.
In the past, the internet was useful, but not imperative. Today, for educational and professional purposes, keeping up with the latest news, having access to and being proficient on computers and the internet is crucial. From doing research to applying for jobs, people need the internet not only to get ahead, but also to keep up.
But libraries are there for more than just technology and learning.
As rural communities see people and jobs leaving their towns, the role of the library grows. “[Libraries are] one of the last vestiges of community identity… especially if the community no longer has a school,” says Jim Weikum, director of the Arrowhead Library System. More than just a place of learning, libraries are a gathering place within communities, a place for free entertainment, a place to build and maintain community ties.
Libraries are integral to successful and thriving communities, yet because they face budget cuts from federal and state sources, they are cutting their hours, dropping programs, and making due with inadequate technology. All this is being done to ensure the doors stay open—that this last community stronghold can remain.