Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Libraries and Librarians

City libraries hold much value and are gratefully preserved

My grade school library was the first I ever set foot in. I was about five. Just learning how to read, the library opened up a brand new world to discover.

I was mesmerized by the sheer quantity of books in that little library that was perhaps half the size of the Colfax library. That amazement has reignited over the years as my path has taken me through much larger libraries.

My school's library today is a little bit bigger than Colfax's. It serves a student population of 548. There is a computer lab in a much larger building separate from the library. The two combined resemble a mini version of the library I frequent most often these days - the California State University, Sacramento Library. It's huge and virtually free - sort of.

Of course it costs money to operate a library ... to stock it, equip it and staff it - the money has to come from somewhere. But shouldn't access be free? It feels to me like free library access is decidedly American. It's the counterpart to the First Amendment. What's the use of a free press without free access to the products of the press? Although library costs are paid by tax dollars, getting those dollars to the library requires community support - especially in a small community like Colfax.

However, the funds required to run to these bastions of a free and unabridged press are always the first on the fiscal chopping block. The personnel needed to keep the doors open require ongoing funding. The bottom line is simple: Libraries need librarians.

Like teachers, librarians are undervalued in our society. They are charged with the responsibility of cataloging and indexing the information of our world. It is a huge responsibility. We seem to expect these professionals to do this task almost as a labor of love, out of the charity of their hearts or due to some sense of civic duty. Truth be told; like teachers, many of them do. And the sad truth is that we, as a society, take them for granted.

We pay them part-time money for full-time work. In Colfax, the library is open 24 hours per week, yet three part-time employees account for just 40 hours per week of paid employment. Although community volunteers help, if it weren't for employees with a strong sense of duty, the work could not be done.

The biggest problem with cutting funding to libraries is not manifested in what is actually inside the building itself, but in getting inside it. A library is useless if the doors are closed.

All the online access to information in the world will never substitute for the hard copy. Books have legitimacy and credibility; they have an odor and a feel - each one a little different. There is continuity from reader to reader; each leaving the subtle mark of his or her passing that can never be replicated by electronic text.

It's librarians like Gunda Pramuk in Colfax that keep it all in order, but they do so much more. They know how to find information; the methods and the tricks of the trade are their art. A dying art? Perhaps. The ease and comfort of never having to leave the home may be the death knell for the library and the librarian. Perhaps the library is becoming nothing more than a literary museum of sorts; a curiosity of how we used to store thoughts and ideas before the digital revolution.

Or, perhaps not. The Placer County Board of Supervisors has recently committed a significant sum of money to the preservation - indeed, the expansion of the county library system. What does that mean to little Colfax? Physically, it means a library with about double the space by 2008 - maybe sooner.

But beyond the physical, it represents an ideological shift - a statement by our elected officials - driven by communities big and small - that libraries are important.

Libraries are not the books they contain; they are not the computers, not the periodicals or the encyclopedias, but rather, an environment. They are academia. They are progress. They are the outward, bold and public statement that this is the land of the free. The collective knowledge of mankind is housed within those walls, free for any who seek it. Our librarians are the trusted stewards of all that wisdom. They are there to share it with any who ask. Any takers?


Saur♥Kraut said...

Beautiful. This is so very true. It hit a soft spot for me. One of my fondest memories of a kindly adult was a librarian. She treated me like gold when I was a shy, nervous little nerd. She gave me the ability to thrive and encouraged me to become the person that I eventually became.

BTW, I love the new pics. But I like the blue one too! Put the blue one up permanently in your blog! please?

Anonymous said...

This hit a huge soft spot with me too. My favorite aunt was the Head Librarian at Los Angeles City Library when I was a kid. I was SO PROUD of her. My childhood dream was to grow up and be a Librarian just like her. She died when I was still quite young but the love of books and reading she instilled in me is still alive today.

Great article.

Snaggle Tooth said...

Ah, beauty in the Dewey Decimal System. There are even degrees in Library science these days, as it becomes more complicated by the digital.
I've been frustrated by limited available library hours for my schedule, myself.
The wonderful children's Librarian who influenced and taught much to my now grown kids has recently passed away, and the entire town knew her- a great person she was!

I hope the art and science of library preservation finance grows stronger, for all the generatons to come.

At least Cofax got the grant funds for growth, as all should and need to.

Belizegial said...

Mike, good morning

I truly enjoyed reading through this article.

As Snaggletooth commented, degrees are now being offered in Library science as it becomes more complicated by the digital. One of my blogger friends, Dale Savage, can offer more insight on this topic as he is well on his way to earning a library degree. Check him out at http://thesavageview.blogspot.com

Libraries not only represent a free society, they are also unique to our own culture. Our libraries are filled with books on Belizean history, unique to our own environment.

I have placed your blogsite as a link on my blog for other interested viewers.


Ellen said...

My favorite place in the world on a Saturday morning was the town library. I could lose myself in a different world in a matter of minutes. It wasn't uncommon for me to have a hard time choosing which books to leave with for further reading at home. I always had too many, and had to sacrifice a few till the next Saturday rolled around.

Nice post... it brought back a lot of good memories.

Lee Ann said...

Oh, I will definitely come back....
too many margaritas. This looks to good to not get it all!

awareness said...

Hi Mike..........

The book I used to take out of the library when I was a newbie library user? "Harry, the Dirty Dog....." I loved that book.

Yes, libraries play a mighty fine role in my life. My husband works in one at the local university. When people ask him what he "does" for a living, he tells them he's a "library stylist"....... sounds more swank!

Remember the scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" when George is learning about Bedford Falls without him.......George starts running around looking for Mary and Clarence the angel has to tell him that horror of horrors, she ended up being a "librarian" It's such a funny scene and though my hubbie and I have scene it a gazillion times, we laugh out loud everytime we watch it.

Great post. Libraries are havens. School libraries are much needed too and unfortunately they are the first area that a school board with cut back on.......not right!