By Margaret Lucke
"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."
Jorge Luis Borges, author
A public library is an amazing place. You can choose a book or a DVD and take it home--for free. If you need a computer, you can use one there--for free. You can attend a concert, or hear an author speak, or take a child to listen to stories--all for free.
A library offers a wealth of education and entertainment at no charge. As it happens, though, it costs a lot of money to do that.
"A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."
Henry Ward Beecher, social reformer
For nearly four decades my town--Hercules, California--had no public library, so there was a huge celebration when our beautiful new library opened in 2006. The enthusiasm continues. The library gets close to 4,000 visitors a week. Last year more than 5,600 people attended nearly 400 free programs and checked out nearly a quarter of a million books and other materials. In many ways the library has brought the community together and become its heart.
I’m on the board of the Friends of the Hercules Library, just one of many active library supporters and volunteers.
"A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.
It is a never failing spring in the desert."
Andrew Carnegie, businessman and philanthropist
Until last summer the library was open 45 hours a week. The county library system funded 35 hours and the city funded 10 more. But last year financial difficulties forced the city to eliminate its contribution. Ten weekly hours were scheduled to be cut from the library’s schedule. That meant its open hours would below the 40 hours a week that the county library requires of its branches in order to maintain their full-time professional staff.
The library’s supporters were determined to make sure the library could retain its outstanding librarians and preserve the high quality of its services. So we quickly organized HELP--the Hercules Emergency Library Project--to raise $50,000 to keep the library open 40 hours a week during the current fiscal year. We held garage sales and a dinner dance, and passed the hat at meetings of local groups. We collected a few checks for $1,000 or more, and lots and lots of coins and crumpled dollar bills. I’m very proud to say we’ve succeeded in reaching our goal.
Now we have to gear up to do it again next year.
"The best thing about the library is that it is available not only to me,
but to everyone. It does not discriminate."
David Horowitz, political writer
Some people would have you think that in this era of Internet access and high-tech gadgets, public libraries are obsolete. Not so. They are well used though, sadly, not well funded.
Libraries are among the most democratic of our institutions. The access they provide to computers, books, films, and music is invaluable, not only to individuals but to our society. Libraries bring people together. They enlighten and inspire. They open the doors to the world.
"Libraries are places where the imagination begins."
Heather Barbieri, author
Have you been to your local library lately? I urge your to pay a visit and see all that it has to offer. While you’re there, check out some books, because funding is often based in part on circulation numbers. Join your Friends group. Make a donation. Vote for tax or bond measures that will secure its funding. Your library deserves your support.
"Libraries are a public good and a civic responsibility.
They are about our future as much as they are our past."
Andrew Lopez, university librarian