Monday, January 24, 2011

Library or Community Center? Save Our Libraries!

This morning I was shocked and dismayed to see on WNYC that Queens library has stopped buying books at least until July.  As a frequent user of the Queens library system, this definitely affects my reading future.  I also belong to the New York Public Library, but it's a fairly far walk from work and, well, Queens is my library. 

What I don't understand is definitive end of buying books for the next few months.  I can understand only one or two copies, but to not buy ANY?  That's crazy!  I don't mind waiting for inter-library loan, in fact, I think it's a great idea, but to know that I can't get any new books unless I buy them or schlep over to the NYPL makes me incredibly frustrated.

Queens Library CEO (who knew libraries had CEOs?  I suppose it makes sense but I never thought about it before) says that libraries aren't exactly centered around books anymore.  They're more about community, a place for kids and seniors to go.  Now, this is something I get in theory, but what about the books?  I'm all for promoting community with libraries, but if we're not also promoting literacy at what point does the library become a glorified community center or internet cafe?  In a time when people seem to be reading less and less, we need a place where we can focus on reading and books.

I was recently in my local Queens library and kids were running around and teens were hanging out in the YA section (which is awesome...though I don't think any of them were reading...) and a guy asked where the quiet room was.  The librarian replied that they didn't have such a thing (she actually didn't seem to understand the concept) and the guy had to leave, rather than stay and get his studying/reading/work done.  I couldn't believe there wasn't one place in this newly renovated library where you could go and just focus on a book.  Maybe I'm just getting old and don't understand the way community needs are changing, but I would think a library would be the one thing that would remain constant for a community.

What do you think?  Are your libraries going through similar struggles?  Do you see libraries becoming less about books and more a place for people to gather?  Any librarians out there that can shed some light on the other side of this?

If anyone's feeling generous the Queens library system is running a Buy-a-Book program where you can donate $25 to the purchase of a book for an institution that is very clearly in need of some help.

Edit: It looks like Queens isn't the only library in trouble.  Texas governor Rick Perry is proposing to cut library spending in his state to just $100,000, that's practically nothing for an entire state budget!  If your a Texan, heck, even if you're not, please let them know libraries are still important!

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