"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, February 7, 2011


Today's blog post is brought to you by the letter "L" for Libraries. Lovely, likeable, learned, limitless libraries - often small buildings, packed with big ideas. The place where anyone can look up information on anything. The quiet zone. A place for children to discover stories, myths, and legends.

I'm on this rant because the Placentia Library Friends Foundation is hosting their annual Author's Luncheon this March. It's a fundraiser for the foundation, which serves the library. So far, the group has outfitted the library with a computer lab, new flooring, children's programs, and more. The luncheon is unashamedly money-conscious: tickets are $50, plus a silent auction, plus a percentage of the author's books, plus more opportunities to give your dollars, all for a good cause. Because the library is a good cause.

In their quest to get corporate donations for this event, the volunteers have been contacting companies in and near Placentia, to ask for a contribution. One of the volunteers reported that many companies have rebuffed her, saying, "Libraries are on their way out. You can get everything you need on the internet."


First, I had to laugh at their naivety. When Dale and I went to Parent Day at Cal State Long Beach, one of the sessions was given by a campus librarian, who told us, "I will spend your student's first year here convincing them that, just because you can't Google it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

Not everything is on the internet. There are presidential papers, theses, doctoral dissertations, that reside in brick-and-mortar buildings, in their original state. Some of them were actually hand-written, some were typed on a typewriter, but they have not been scanned or entered into a computer in any way. And yet, they are still actively used in research, by anyone who is interested in learning.

I could make a snarky comment about the level of intelligence of these company representatives, but I'll restrain myself. Feel free to make fun of them amongst yourselves.

My second rebuttal to their claim will take a brief story to illustrate:

When my son, Marcus, was in elementary school, we had a constant problem with sweatshirts. Marcus would wear them to school, take them off at some point, leave them somewhere, and never see them again. Putting his name on the tag was useless. It was irritating, until I picked him up one day at the on-site daycare. It was winter in southern California and late in the day, so the temperature outside was creeping down through the 60's. A little boy came running through the room, wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, his exposed skin ruddy with cold. The daycare lady told him to get his jacket on.

"I don't have one," he told her. From the way he said it, I knew he meant he didn't own a jacket.

"Take one out of the lost and found," she said. "You can return it before you go home."

I suddenly understood where Marcus' sweatshirts had been going, and my irritation disappeared. I knew our elementary school served a diverse population, both in race and in socio-economic conditions. Now I saw what this meant, in a personal way.

What does this have to do with libraries? Just this: some families in our community cannot provide adequate clothing for their children. Some children get public assistance to pay for their lunches. For some children, this is their only meal of the day. For their families, it is a constant struggle to keep the car running, to get to the minimum-wage job so they can pay the rent. Where would they get the money for a computer, much less internet services?

Without the library, some people would not have access to the same information that we take for granted. People who are on a fixed income, people who are struggling to make ends meet, people who may not have financial need, but who require personal help, would all be set adrift if there were no libraries to help them.

I can afford to buy a book I want to read, however, it's often easier and much cheaper to just check it out of the library. I save paper. I don't clutter my house with one more book that may not get read again. It's a win-win.

I could make a snarky comment about the level of compassion of these company representatives, but I'll restrain myself. I will only leave you with my opinion and my warning: If libraries cease to exist, we will widen the gulf between the already-gaping economic classes. And the belief we have always held as Americans, that we can work hard to better ourselves and provide a better future for our children, will become more of a myth than anything on a library's shelves.

There. I don't know about you, but I feel better.

1 comment:

Lemur said...

I adore my library and do everything I can to support them.

Did you know that borrowing books (especially via intra-library loans actually helps them? The higher their circulation, the more likely they are to get funding.

The CRITTER Project and Naked Without A Pen

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.