The sound of libraries suffocating

2011-07-05T00:00:00Z The sound of libraries suffocating Santa Maria Times
July 05, 2011 12:00 am

The bodies of dead public programs and eviscerated social services litter the American landscape like casualties of a brutal war.

It seems, at times, as though the Great Recession is systematically wiping out institutions that were generations in the making.

Governments strapped for operating capital are making deep cuts. Just last week, as most American children enjoyed their summer break from classes, school districts across the nation were mapping out strategies of planned attrition, preparing to notify thousands of teachers their jobs are no longer available.

Education isn’t the only casualty. Public libraries are also feeling the heat, and most cities on the Central Coast have either reduced their library funding, or have plans to do so.

This loss of financial support comes at a time when library staffs in many communities have already been reduced to not much more than a skeleton crew.

It’s like a chain-reaction crash. The federal government, which is $14 trillion in debt, reduces funding to states. California, whose lawmakers managed to whittle down a $26 billion budget deficit with program/services cuts — and some voodoo accounting — have less money to send to counties, which in turn, have to choke off local programs and services.

The loss of funding for public education could have catastrophic consequences. Our elected officials seem intent on squeezing school districts, at the exact moment in history when this nation needs that young brain power to be nurtured and expanded.

The kids are, after all, the real hope for solving these core problems in the future.

Throttling public libraries may very well be another problem with lasting repercussions. Consider these facts:

Public libraries are places Americans go to help them find and get jobs. It’s where anyone who signs up for a library card can check out any book they please.

Nearly as many Americans have library cards as they do credit cards. Even if they don’t have the requisite card, there are usually plenty of places to sit and read the periodicals.

Libraries are places where we can go to get answers. Don’t have a computer at home? Your public library has them. And tech training classes take place daily at more than a third of the nation’s libraries.

Every day that America’s 16,000 public libraries are open, more than 300,000 people search for jobs. Most of those libraries are Wi-Fi hotspots, so you can bring your laptop and browse to your heart’s content.

Nearly 3 million times each month, local businesses nationwide rely on the local library’s resources to help those business owners turn a profit.

Libraries are frequent hosts for family movie nights. Libraries have more meeting rooms than the nation’s conference centers, convention facilities and auditoriums combined. It’s an ideal place for community issues to be discussed, and because libraries are “quiet places,” the discourse tends to be more civil.

Each year, about 220 million Americans attend a sporting event of some kind — compared to 1.4 billion visits to public libraries. Another comparison — FedEx ships an average of 8 million packages daily; the nation’s public libraries circulate about the same number of materials.

The recession and its effects on local government are pulling support away from libraries. You may be able to help by discussing the issue with your elected representatives. Another avenue of assistance is through a Friends-of-the-Library group. Just about every community has one.

The Great Recession has changed life as we know it in so many ways. We can’t allow it to kill our libraries.

Copyright 2015 Santa Maria Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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