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A Case For Libraries

Libraries were a saving grace growing up and as time passes, I’m seeing more and more libraries that are becoming little more than computer banks. Libraries are getting rid of books at alarming rates, at least here in NE Ohio, and I can’t even begin to explain how much that both saddens and frustrates me. Sure, with advances in tech it makes sense to have more computers. They can help with job and college applications, help the elderly and less tech savvy of us set up and check emails, etc. Plus, most libraries have access to online resources that are far too expensive for most to pay at home for how little they would use them. This post isn’t against technology, but it is against the dismissal of the importance of books and libraries that is taking place in the US. I have never lived in another country, so I cannot speak on that. However, if you are based somewhere else and have some input, feel free to leave a comment!

In Ohio, libraries are funded by the PLF (Public Library Fund). It uses tax revenue from each year to dedicate to public libraries. So, 1.7% of all tax revenue goes to libraries every year, which you may think at first glance is great. However, while putting into law that some tax money will go to libraries each year, most Ohio libraries are finding that they’re actually getting less government funds and are relying on donations and their respective “friends of the library” programs. And as a lover of libraries, it sucks.

Growing up, we didn’t have enough discretionary income to go to the bookstore and buy books regularly, especially at the rate in which I read them. Moreover, we didn’t have a computer and the dial-up on the one we got later was so slow, I could make a pizza from scratch before everything was booted up. So, libraries were always a welcome trip. More often than not, I would spend two or more hours looking over the shelves, picking up old favorites and books that sounded interesting. I would take some and read it in the cozier and secluded section of the library. And right before it was time for me to leave, either my ride was on the way or I needed to walk home before dinner, I would gather all the books I was allowed to take (it was 10 for minors at the time) and check them out.

Usually, they’d be finished within a week.

Then I met someone who later became my closest friend. She happened to love reading just as much as I did and so we came up with a plan. It was pretty brilliant if you ask me, especially when you consider that neither of our parents wanted to make weekly trips to the library. We would each check out 10 books and then switch. By the time our books were due, we’d read 20 and were ready for more.

Libraries also gave me the first instances into books with characters like me for people my age. Sure, there were older books (Omar Tyree, Sistah Souljah) but you’d have been hard-pressed to go to a bookstore and find YA, middle grade or picture books for Black people. And if, by some instance you did, they were all fair skinned and white-presenting, at least on the covers. But I found some at the library. The Bluford High series, Walter Dean Myers, and so many others. It made me wonder why they weren’t on the shelves of Borders and the other bookstores I frequented. Be that as it may, I was able to read about lives that I could relate to and the representation mattered. And not just in realistic fiction, which is where most of the books fell. Reading BIPOC characters in science fiction, in poetry, even in fantasy was an entirely new experience. Plus, I had grown so tired of being the comedic relief or the mean girl or the sidekick. The library allowed me to see BIPOC characters as more than that. And the fact that I may have never known these books without the library isn’t one I’m liable to forget any time soon.

Then there were the book sales! Filling up an entire brown paper bag of books that the library could no longer house. Nowhere else could I get ten books for $3, and the condition was usually pretty good. I can’t lie though, the dust jackets were always tossed! I still patronize a library book sale every so often!

Speaking of today, I still support my local library although I don’t find as much time to go in-person. I use the Libby app to get access to great ebooks (and audio books). I make sure that at least one book that I read each month comes from my local library. Of course, not everyone is able to read as often as I do, but I think that if you can, making some time to check one out from the library is a great idea.

Libraries have great resources for everyone. You can check out projectors and screens, zoo passes, look up grant opportunities. If you’re holding on to those VHS tapes or cassettes, many libraries can convert them to disc or USB drive. You can print banners and posters and learn about local events, many of which are free all right there inside the library.

Many libraries also have other programs from knitting clubs to free movie nights complete with popcorn and other snacks. From book clubs to writing nights. Not sure what your library has to offer? What harm would it do to check it out? Besides, every time you check something out at the library, it shows the local government that yes, people do care. And while the state is only going to give so much, more numbers helps prove the value to local government who have a say in what goes on.

With TikTok and the voices of those like Mychal Threets and the Milwaukee Public Library account, libraries are getting more recognition, yet there is still a lot of work to be done. Still, so many advocate for the change from a place to get free knowledge and entertainment to little more than a cyber cafe (minus the beverages, obviously). It seems like every time I go into a library, they have less books. Recently, I went to one and three rows had been completely emptied out! Empty shelves looking forlorn and pitiful.

I love books and there are so many people who cannot afford to purchase them. With most of Ohio being able to classify as a book desert, libraries are an invaluable resource. Support your library please!

So, how have you been impacted by libraries? And what are your thoughts?

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