Support your local library
Libraries are democracy’s great equalizer, providing access to knowledge regardless of income, race, gender or class.
I earned $1.50 an hour at my first job shelving books after school at the Pacific Grove Public Library in 1969, half a lifetime ago. I quickly learned the messiest days were those with the children’s reading hours, when little ones would leave piles of books on the floor in the reading circle, along with messy shelves and sticky little chairs. Still, it was fun to see them leave the library late in the afternoon with their piles of picture books held tightly in their arms, chattering about whatever story they’d heard that day.
Less than a decade later, I worked in a library again, as a college work-study student at Sonoma State, a job that paid enough to live on, barely, while I earned a degree in a thriving state college system that was both financially accessible to lower middle class students like me and challenging enough to attract top students from across the state.
When I walked into the downtown Reno library on my lunch hour a few weeks ago to reactivate my long-dormant library card, I reflected on those past job experiences as the uber-efficient young woman signed me up in less than two minutes, briskly competent as most library people tend to be. She and her colleagues quickly helped the people ahead of me with kindness and ease: a scruffy, homeless-looking man checking out some battered paperbacks, an older woman, of retirement age, with a stack of novels, and a younger downtown worker with some audio-books.
I was mostly interested in gaining credentials to access the library’s e-books, having finally converted to the pleasure of reading on an iPad with its back-lighting and adjustable text size. E-books are still a small percentage of the Washoe County book collection, with just 7,000 titles out of 750,000, but still about 6,975 more than those in my personal collection.
The downtown branch was the library’s flagship when I moved to Reno 35 years ago, with its multi-level greenery and open floor plan, filled with the constant murmur of activity of patrons of all ages. Today, budget cuts have slashed its hours to just five days a week, along with other library branches, a 36 percent reduction in public hours.
The recession has not been kind to the library, despite its role as the literary heart of the community. The materials budget is now just 52 percent of what it was in 2008, and its staff has 94 fewer positions. Although volunteer hours have increased 74 percent and community donations of magazine subscriptions and books are growing, it’s not nearly enough to provide the depth and quality our community deserves.
In recognition of National Library Week, April 14–20, why not celebrate by joining the Friends of Washoe County Library, a volunteer group that offers book sales and other fundraisers to support basic library needs. With more support, perhaps the Friends can revitalize their traditional role of expanding the library’s offerings by supplementing its budget instead of maintaining the basics, by replacing the funds lost to budget cuts.
You can even be a little selfish, like me, and donate a book through Amazon Wish List that you really want to read, like This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, knowing that you and hundreds of others can enjoy the book through your contribution. Buy a book every month this year, and do something concrete to build your community’s sense of civic engagement, one book at a time.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Libraries are the great symbols of the freedom of the mind … essential to the functioning of a democratic society.” How about doing your part for democracy and freedom?