When I was a kid, my home was not a comforting place, so I hung out in the quiet seclusion of the city library. One special nook was filled with art books, and I sat hour after hour reverently turning pages of reproductions of famous paintings. Oddly, I don’t remember the librarian, but I’m sure she noticed the shy kid with her nose in the art books.
Since then, libraries have become more lively and more popular. Children happily wander among the stacks, adults gather for discussion groups and meet-the-author events. Libraries have become even more vital hubs of the community than they were when my home town library was my second home. But when the world economy tanked, guess which public institution became most expendable.
All over the country, city and state governments are slashing funding for public libraries. Libraries have had to drastically lay off employees and cut their days and hours to the bone. Their book-purchasing budgets have been pared too, so their shelves hold fewer new books. There hasn’t been much outcry — at least not like there’d be if football were discontinued at state colleges — but a band of determined people who believe in the power and importance of literature have stepped forward to try to save public libraries. They volunteer to sort, shelve, and check out books. They work in used book shops within the library, selling books donated by other friends of the library. Volunteers read aloud to toddlers, they help older kids learn to read in after-school programs, they hold art classes and craft classes for kids and adults. They also donate as much cash as they can to keep their local libraries open. Library volunteers are the heroes of today’s reading world.
This morning, the Friends of the Braden River Branch Library in Bradenton, FL, invited me to speak to mystery lovers about my mystery series. They laid out a spread of fruit, cheese, pastries, juice, and coffee, they set up chairs for the audience and tables to display my books. They advertised the event, put posters around town and a marquee out front, and treated me like royalty. It was a lovely morning. I met a lot of nice people, had some good snacks, and came away awed at how much hard work and dedication it took for the library staff and volunteers to pull it all off so smoothly.
If you love books and would like to preserve the American tradition of free libraries open to the public, I urge you to donate time or money to your local library. They need you now as they’ve never needed you before. And next time you vote, pay some attention to how much value the candidates assign to public libraries.