Occasionally when budget time rolls around, people begin debating the value of contributing tax dollars to the local public library and, indeed, some towns around my hometown have withdrawn their support for the library or begun to discuss doing so. That is, these towns will no longer give tax money to the area library so their residents can access it free. Instead, their residents will have to pay for a card if they want one. (From what I’ve seen at various libraries, such a card runs about $40 a year.)
Of course, library usage is not technically free. But if I recall correctly, someone commented that they were paying $10 a year in taxes to use the neighboring library. I believe that this year my county’s contribution was something $15 a year per taxpayer. If I were to buy one book or one movie, I would already be paying more than $15. So, in the end, yes, the library is essentially free for me and I save hundreds of dollars each year by checking out books and videos rather than buying them. I also use their databases to take classes and learn languages–if I were not a library patron, I would have to pay for these services, too.
People argue for withdrawing support for libraries by claiming that they are outdated, underused, superseded by the Internet. Ask for your library’s statistics and you will, I guarantee, see that this is not true. My problem with such statements, aside from the fact that a quick search would expose the reality about library usage, is that these statements are generally made by people who, in fact, don’t use the library. And thus assume that no one else does, either.
If an individual does not use the library, that often means that the individual can afford not to do so. That is, they have enough money that they can buy books and DVDs, take classes, and use the Internet if they want. However, many people don’t have this luxury. When we take tax funding away from libraries, we are hurting the people who need these services most. Children learning to read (and remember that increased reading is associated with increased success in school). Students using the Internet to do their homework or checking out books assigned in their classes (my library gets copies of local reading lists each year to ensure they can by extra books for low income students who will be in to do their summer reading). Individuals using the computers to search for jobs or communicate with family members. Individuals teaching themselves English.
Some people, it’s true, don’t use their libraries because their libraries don’t have as much to offer. The latest releases aren’t there. They have few database. The library is small and you can barely check anything out because the shelves would be bare if they let you have ten DVDs at once. But these libraries want to have resources. They don’t have them because they don’t have the money. The best thing you can do to support them, aside from donating money, is to use their services anyway. Statistics are libraries’ greatest weapons in advocating for increased funding. Every time you check out a book, request an ILL, ask a librarian a question, or just walk through the door, your contribution is being counted and collated as evidence of library usage–evidence that they will use when budget time rolls around.
Maybe paying $40 a year for a card doesn’t sound like so much. But for some people, $40 is more than they can afford to pay. And when they lose the library, they lose access to learning and to opportunity. So I implore you. Even if you don’t use the library, think of the people who do. Think of the children learning to read, the students doing their homework, the individuals trying to teach themselves something new, the homeless taking shelter in the winter. Think of the individuals who need a fantasy because it’s their only escape from a hard life. The individuals who would never discover jazz or the Avengers or Shakespeare or Harry Potter if they didn’t have a card. The individuals who participate in library programs that seek to confront racism, to provide tax help, to match the unemployed with local resources. These people need the library, even if you don’t.
So think about donating to your local library, whether that means giving them your used books, writing a check, or volunteering. Write to your representatives to let them know why the library is important for the community as a whole. And go visit your library sometime. Their resources and programs may surprise you. And just checking out a book or asking a question will make you a statistic they can use to advocate for more funding. A simple action can help more than you might think.
Edit: There seems to be confusion about the problem I discuss. In this case, my hometown library is the local library. So let’s say it’s located in City A, but neighboring cities B, C, and D do not have their own libraries. Thus, B, C, and D can contribute tax dollars to the library in A to allow their residents to obtain cards there free. These cities have begun debating the merit of diverting tax dollars to another city’s library, however, meaning that if they withdraw tax support, their residents will have to pay for a card at City A’s library. Or they could choose to go to a different library, maybe in City E, where they would also have to pay for a card. City A, however, has not entirely cut funding for its own library, though there have been budget cuts over the years, leading to reduced hours and fewer materials and databases.