Library cuts?

31 Oct

I’ve always believed in reading—reading cereal boxes, reading street signs, especially reading newspapers and of course, reading books. One of the best places to get reading materials is your local library. Many cannot now afford to spend $25 on a book at Barnes & Nobles. But the library is much more than a place to save a few bucks. The very notion of a library—that all people should have access to ideas through reading—is one of the stones that support a democratic society.

Erie County executive Chris Collins recently made the decision to cut the Erie County’s Library revenues by four million. Overall, they will face a 6.8 million shortage. And when he made that decision, he reached underneath a democratic institution and took out a stone, leaving it in a precarious position. The libraries will stay open. They will not close. But they will never be as open as they once were, as accessible as they once were, as free to everyone as they once were.

Many people these days say that we need to cut spending, but when it’s something we’re connected to, we gripe, we moan, we get snarky. It happens in school districts. A lot. The libraries are no different. But couldn’t he cut something besides library funds, something that touches fewer people, something that’s not so completely fundamental?

Millions use the Erie County libraries every year. Could we put a price on the child who otherwise cannot afford a book yet because of the library discovers worlds outside his or her own? Or a child who learns to read because his mother takes him to the library every week to check out books he actually likes? More than a few children have learned to read because they want to see what happens next in the newest Harry Potter story.

The cuts particularly pain me because I feel they’re another gash in the already bleeding habit of discovering and reading good books. People now watch television, watch YouTube or watch incoming text messages. Basically, they watch screens. Myself included. But I also read a ton. And whenever I read, I feel rejuvenated in a way today’s trashy shows can never do for me.

Cutting the library budget doesn’t help people read more or return to reading once again. It sends this message: “It’s not top priority. It isn’t really important anymore. It’s an extra.” But reading has never been more vital than right now, when people are forgetting how extraordinary it is to enter a book and get lost for awhile in its particular wonders. Reading gets sacrificed because let’s face it: watching a screen takes less work. Hey, even right now, you could be watching the news on television. But perhaps you, like me, prefer inky words. And libraries. And the idea that access to books, and then reading them, makes us a better people, community and world.



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