Invest in the Library

Photo of man looking for a book. Courtesy

Photo courtesy

Where can you go to pick up the latest bestselling book, grab a movie, and learn a new skill all in one trip? If you said your local library, you’d be correct. Unfortunately, you’d also be in the minority. Library usage is down, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are only hurting those numbers. It’s an unfortunate situation because public libraries are a boon for their communities. Fortunately, it’s not too late to stand up and save our libraries.

Libraries, like all public services, are severely underfunded. Most people might think of libraries as dusty old buildings filled with yellowing books and decrepit old women ready to shush you for anything louder than two decibels but that’s just not accurate. Libraries are meant to be welcoming, with the latest materials and up to date technology and the modern library reflects that. They are places of congregation, and of mental nourishment. They are places that a family can come to educate and entertain their children. They are places where people can come to just exist without having to worry about the world around them. They are all of these things, and the best part is that it doesn’t cost a penny to use the library. Sure, your tax dollars fund the service, but anyone can patronize the library for free.

In fact, libraries are one of the last places left that don’t have some cost of entry: you can’t even stay at a McDonalds without buying a cup of coffee first. For people with low income, or no income, the library can be a lifeline. The average book costs $18 plus tax, and the average movie can run you upwards of $20, but they don’t cost anything from the library. Investing in the library is investing in the wellbeing of your community.

Now some people might say that it’s not worth it. That we pay too much in taxes as is, and that we shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s enrichment. Or more insidiously, they might say that the kind of enrichment that the library offers isn’t the kind of thing we should be spending money on, or even allowing. There has been a huge push in the last few months to challenge and ban books in school and public libraries. It’s largely for petty political reasons, but it’s been a movement that’s gaining traction. The idea is that public funds shouldn’t be used to buy books that highlight LGBTQIA or race and diversity stories, but it’s about limiting access to information that challenges the white supremacist position. For example, if we limit the information that people can access about the Tulsa Race Massacre or the US AIDS response it’s much easier to change the narrative and sweep that “unpleasantness” under the rug. Hiding the information doesn’t change the fact that these kinds of things happened, and denying access isn’t going to make the struggles people have magically go away.

So how can you help? The quickest way is to start patronizing your local library. The more people who use the service, the easier it is to raise funding. Speaking of funding, you can always donate directly to the institution; direct funds allow a lot more flexibility than what is set in the budget. If you want to advocate for the service, start attending the library board meetings or even inquire about joining the board. Knowledge is power and giving access to knowledge is the most powerful thing you can do. It’s time to help support our libraries so they can support the free exchange of ideas necessary for a successful democratic society.