Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More trouble for area libraries

Posted By on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Well, this (see below) is annoying news. What is it, exactly, that we have to do to help policymakers and administrators understand that this city, and the individual communities and citizens within, need their libraries. Not want; need. With the possibility upon us that our economy may slide down the cliff again, our libraries are more important than ever. Where do you think people go for information (you know, that thing our society thrives on?) when things fall apart? They go to go to the library.

To all the library detractors out there, I'd like to know when you last visited one of Charlotte's fine libraries? I wonder because, I know, if you'd get out from behind your computer screens and go visit your local library you'd change your tune.

I'm lucky. I've live near a library and pass by it on a daily basis. So I see the full parking lots and the families — not just one person, families — coming and going. And, every time I go in, the place is always hoppin.' The kids section is full of giggles and stories. The computer room is packed and sometimes has a waiting list. The chairs near the newspapers are full of quiet readers. People are holding court in the meeting rooms. Students are buried in their books or laptops, blocking out the world with their headphones. And, bless them, our librarians are always there to help you find the information you need.

As a journalist and an avid information collector, I visit libraries regularly. Again, I'm lucky. I have reliable transportation and can go to any library I want ... and I do. If I'm working on a story about a particular area, I often begin my research in that area's library. Why? Because that's where the local history is held. That's where I'll find people who heard something one time, who knows the daughter of the man who used to own that place, who can put me directly in touch with local history you're not going to find on the Internet.

Not everyone is as lucky. A lot of people don't have access to transportation and won't be able to get to a library on the opposite side of town if their branch is shut down. There are also a lot of people who can't afford to buy books, subscribe to newspapers or magazines or pay for an Internet connection right now. But, just because they're down on their luck financially doesn't mean they shouldn't have equal access to information. That's what libraries are for, that's why we have them scattered all over the place — to ensure access to everyone, that's why it's so important they stay open.

So, now that you know I'm a huge supporter of our libraries (unfortunately more in word that fiscally) and very protective of them, you may understand why reading headlines like this, "Could Matthews, Mint Hill library deals be threatened? Huntersville now refuses to sign agreement," from the Carolina Weekly Newspaper group, makes me want to scream.

Matthews and Mint Hill have volunteers begging to work, at no charge, in an effort to keep their libraries open only to be slapped by another municipality, on the other side of the city, that's getting political with what should be a wonderful thing for the community.

Here's a snippet from the article, by Andrew Batten, Frank DeLoache and Kara Lopp:

The irony of the discussion, however, is that Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Davidson – who have pushed hard to recruit and train volunteers – will allow those libraries to be open a fifth day. Huntersville, which has not made a concerted effort, will likely remain open only four days a week after commissioners said they didn’t want to become volunteer recruiters.

“I think everybody should be treated equally, and when you think about it, Huntersville got kind of a sweet deal. They’re not putting a penny in. But we’re all kind of in this as one community. We all have a shared library system. It’s a broader picture. In this case, there is no perfect answer.” [Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte]

Listen, you cannot underestimate the value of a few things in this world: Clean water, clean air, a safe place to sleep, food to eat, friends and a place to gather information for free. Our libraries are treasures, and should be treated as such. Boo to you, Huntersville, for not getting that. Boo to you.

Today, I'm going to make a donation to the library as a show of support for all of the people who are standing up to volunteer. I'd like to encourage you to do the same: $1, $100 — it all helps. Click here to donate. And, library officials, if you're listening, what I'd really like to do is send you a few bucks a month — like I do for other charities. Can you create an easy button for us that will auto-draft our accounts? That'd be great. Thanks.

Here's a journalist I respect very much, Bill Moyers of PBS, on the importance of libraries, specifically the ones he knows and loves.

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