A foundation of democracy and social justice, public libraries are one of the last completely free social spaces in the US—but with heavy funding cuts and shutdowns, they risk closing indefinitely.
Did you know that there are more public libraries in the United States than there are Starbucks cafes?
Public libraries have long been the pillar of communities. A foundation of democracy and social justice, libraries provide endless amounts of information to the masses.
Despite popular beliefs through the last decade, the public library is not a dying establishment. Instead, they are adapting and evolving to meet community needs. Public libraries across the US offer over 391 million ebooks at an expansion rate of 30% a year. They have also seen vast increases in program offerings. And in light of the need to adapt to a new world amidst the upsets of 2020, libraries are constantly formulating important new ways to meet people's needs.
Yet studies show that the number of people visiting public libraries has slowly but surely decreased over the past few years. Maybe this is because of large cuts in funding to public libraries—or maybe this is how governments are justifying such heavy cuts in funding.
Either way, among shutdowns and widespread economic turmoil, public libraries remain a vital part of society, and here's why:
1. Libraries create a sense of community
Research shows that people engaged with their local libraries tend to feel more connected to their community as a whole. Libraries have long been considered safe havens—free and resourceful meeting places for all community members.
2. Libraries can save you money
Did you know that many college textbooks can be rented out and renewed throughout college courses? Not only can you save money on renting books, but libraries also can save you money on movies, magazines, and newspapers. Many libraries are adapting other free rentals such as tools and musical instruments, and others offer free classes ranging from toddler and child activities to personal development classes.
Most libraries offer free accounting services as well. During tax season, check to see if your library offers free tax filing with an accountant. In addition, libraries in urban settings often offer reduced admission prices to local museums.
Still curious about how much you can save by using library services? This unique tool was created to help you estimate how much money you could save annually by using services from a public library.
3. Libraries benefit children
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Toddler storytime is a great first class to introduce little ones to the library and foster a lifelong love for reading. Early childhood literacy is important, and the earlier a child has access to public libraries, the more efficient and life long the access will be, according to the International Federation of Library Association.
Makerspaces, found in most libraries, engage children in the process of building and creating things with real tools and objects. Classes offer opportunities to learn in a wide array of subjects, including popular STEM topics. Libraries also provide a safe environment for kids to play, learn, and socialize after school.
Threats to Public Libraries
The Public Library Association (PLA) has implemented an extensive response plan to aid in public libraries' recoveries amidst the pandemic. Libraries are expanding online resources available to the public through online courses and materials available to electronically rent.
The Library Stabilization Fund Act, proposed in Congress this past July, would establish $2 billion in funding for public libraries. These funds would help to save over 370,000 library jobs, bolster high-speed internet access, provide resources for remote learning in education, and much more.
For the fourth consecutive year, the ALA reports that the White House has eliminated the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) from the FY21 federal budget. Likewise, public library funding is being cut at the state level. In New York State, funding is at the same levels as two decades ago. My own city's public library has faced talks of closure and has seen huge cuts, which in turn caused New York State to remove the library's status as an NYS central library.
How You Can Help
Check for your state library association here and find specifics on what you can do in your state, including information and templates you can use to contact elected officials.
Use this ALA form to send a message to urge congress to support current funding bills.
In 2019, the equivalency of knowledge and power is not just an adage, but a warning. However, an American public that stays defiantly informed can also turn knowledge into hope.
Author Isaac Asimov once said, "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been.
The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." In 2019, the equivalency of knowledge and power is not just an adage, but a warning. However, an American public that stays defiantly informed can also turn knowledge into hope.
Here are 10 books every (informed) American should read:
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
If you don't read the Steinbeck classics, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, you're doing yourself a disservice. But, if there's only one Steinbeck book you do make time for, make sure it's his autobiographical travel memoir of taking his lumbering RV and charismatic dog across America. He makes due with whatever conversation and company he finds, not driven by any great American ambition other than finding moments of connection in a diverse landscape.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
One of America's most loved authors, Heller's humor and biting observations capture the precarity of individualism in the face of war. The foundations of American cynicism and anti-war sentiment are encapsulated in the eponymous bureaucratic rule of Catch-22: "a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved."
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
As much as the movie adaptations of Frankenstein's monster are icons in America cinema, the philosophical depths of the novel are sadly lost. Individuality and personal responsibility are two major burdens that neither creator nor creation are capable of managing well. There's also something to be said about the element of spectatorship that Shelley frames the novel with, as the story unfolds through a series of letters and switches narration like a mind-bending Black Mirror episode.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates manages to capture both the history and enduring tension of race relations in modern America in what Toni Morrison calls "required reading." Written as a letter to his son, Coates' writing is an alchemy of memoir, oral history, and calls to action. He aims to explore how "Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'Rae,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men...What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live in it?"
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This classic fantasy adventure isn't a political science essay or a philosophical treatise, but the payoff is just as strong–if not stronger. Alienation, otherness, nihilism, and, above all, personal resilience take Arthur Dent through the galaxy after his home (along with the rest of earth) is destroyed one casual morning.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
In the same vein, this sci-fi novel is like Machiavelli's The Prince retold as a dystopian space saga. The value of individual innocence in the face of the greater good is challenged. The series explores the moral boundaries of powerful men using innocents as weapons in a war they can't understand.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gray's book of essays explores the contradictions inherent in what we understand modern "feminism" to mean. Mixing humor with sharp observation, Gay targets issues as banal as choosing pink as her favorite color as well as timelessly complex matters such as domestic abuse and abortion.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This one also gets named on every list of "books you need to read" because of its plain and eerie predictions of how dependent society will become on media for its opinions and worldview, as well as entertainment.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you can't read the entire canons of solipsism, emotional psychology, and the art of satire, you can absorb the whimsical explorations of The Little Prince. Put simply, a boy prince journeys from planet to planet, each populated by a single adult. His conversations with each one create "a heartfelt exposition of sadness and solitude." Originally written in French, it's universally poetic.
1984 by George Orwell
Knowing the references isn't enough with this classic; again, you have to read it for yourself in order to see dystopian America in your mind's eye. From the cognitive dissonance of war crimes to the contradictions of government propaganda, you need to come to your own conclusions about what an Orwellian future looks like.