Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Musing on Public libraries: Vote yes to support them!

While driving to work the other day, I was listening to the NPR program “For You To Borrow, Some Libraries Have To Go Begging.” It reminded me of the recent survey request from Phoenix public library, a library I haven’t visited since I moved from Arizona a couple of years ago. It got me thinking of the significance of Public libraries, and how public libraries are trying to stay relevant, and thrive, despite the pervasiveness of digital sources of information.

Growing up in India years ago, I used to frequent the state central library in Cubbon park. This was much before the days of pervasive internet, and for me and other locals, an opportunity to read latest magazines and periodicals. Newspapers were laid out on tall tables around which patrons stood and read. Magazines, on the other hand could be enjoyed sitting around a desk and chair. Even in crowded public libraries, there was a social etiquette: it was “okay” ro invade one’s private space to "share" a newspaper but generally not a magazine. And there was a sexist element at play in public libraries too: few members of opposite sex were to be seen at libraries, and fewer still in the male dominated magazine and newspaper reading rooms.

In my travels, especially as my job moved me across countries and provinces for extended periods of time, my relocation or extended stay in a city would typically begin with a stopover at local library. Just a sampling of a few of my favorite haunts over the years

The NPR program agrees with what most of us empirically believe to be true “More than 90 percent of Americans say public libraries are important to their communities, according to the Pew Research Center. But the way that love translates into actual financial support varies hugely from state to state.” Many public libraries across western cities are morphing into community centers, attracting the digital generation with both digital tools (eBooks) and community and after-school events. The library, with story-time for preschoolers in our city has been a boon for parents, a fact my wife appreciates all the more during long days in summer months when the school is out.

A few generations ago, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was credited with doling out funds for public libraries across the US. “A total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.” (Wikipedia)

Now that the billionaire and digital entrepreneur, Amazon's Founder Jeff Bezos has staked his claim on marquee print publication The Washington Post, one wonders if he will follow Andrew Carnegie’s footprints with a legacy of re-funding public libraries?

Till a wealthy white knight comes around to rescue, it is for local patrons to voice their support for libraries in their communities. Perhaps take a leaf from the Troy library’s playbook on how to take on Tea Party activists targeting funding for local libraries!

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