More business for the Public Library

During difficult economic times it shouldn’t be surprising that many people have gone back to borrowing books instead of running down to B&N to spend $30 on the latest best seller.

photo by Bernadette Kazmarski

One of my assignments as borough councilman is to hold a seat on the board of our local public library.  It is a duty I sought out not only because of my belief in the importance of libraries, but also because of my fond memories of spending time in this special place as a youngster.  Our library, the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, is also an architectural masterpiece that contains one of the nation’s most intact Civil War Veterans Posts.  And it contains a 500 seat music hall that is a replica of Carnegie Hall in New York.  But I digress.

Last week, at a year end gathering for library supporters, we received a summary of the annual report.  Circulation is up, i.e., more people are checking out more books.  The public access computers are being used more extensively than ever.  More kids are coming to the library.  After school hours are very busy.  Those are trends that you might expect to see.  But aside from those anticipated outcomes, there are others that you might not expect.  One thing in particular struck me because I haven’t seen it since I was a kid— people are going to the library to read the newspaper.  Do you remember when you were young and there were always newspapers skewered on wooden poles resting is a special rack?  Well, they’re making a comeback.  People are making financial cutbacks that are affecting every part of their life.  They may have cut off internet service to their house or apartment.  They may have shut off the paper delivery.  They have stopped buying books.  And another activity that’s been noticed in the library this year: families stopping in on Friday afternoons to check out videos to take home because they can no longer afford to take the kids to the movies or they’ve cut their TV service to the minimum.

I guess it’s a good news, bad news story.  Making lemonade out of lemons.  Less TV means more reading.  Going to the library means more socializing, and maybe even a little exercise getting there.  The abundant personal wealth of the previous three decades allowed people to build their own personal libraries at home, and now our wealth contraction is pushing us back out into the public domain.  Fortunately, our library has been able to step up to the needs of citizens that are being pinched.  We are doing this in spite of state cutbacks.  In fact, we (Borough Council) voted to increase local funding for the library in 2011.  I know I’m preaching to the choir, but public libraries are one of the cornerstones of our freedom.  They must be preserved and maintained so that everyone has free access.

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