We all need a place to eat, and we all need a place to learn. The more support we have in these two areas when we are young, the better our chances of not growing up to be hungry adults. For most children, the primary environment in which they eat and learn is school. They also do a lot of their learning in the library. I think protecting our libraries is just as important as protecting the nourishment of our young population. Libraries -- both in our schools and in our communities -- are vital building blocks for youth.
This is why it's alarming that, according to IMLS.gov , a recent report shows that library funding has seen a 34% decline nationwide in the past three years. Some states, like New Mexico and Florida, report record drops in budget revenue (as much as 50%) and cuts totaling more than 14 million dollars.
While chances for library funding have decreased, they have not disappeared altogether. I was inspired by the recent creative approach to this issue by the children and adults at M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, MA. This community has launched an online video campaign to save a vital resource: their historic 100-year-old library, which is so small that "weekly story hours can only accommodate 5 or 6 children" and which desperately needs plumbing and structural repairs.
The State Library Commission promised the Shutesbury library 2.1 million dollars for upgrades, but here's the catch: in order to get the funds, they must first raise $1.4 million on their own. Their efforts to raise the money are working, thanks to social media and one generous donor. If you ask me, donating to the Shutesbury library is a pretty good investment: taxpayers get a 250% return on their investment once the entire 3.5 million dollars turns into a new library for the community. Check out Shutesbury's effort:
Of course, a library is only as useful as the health of its patrons. Many of the libraries in the world are in schools, and their patrons are students. This means that the libraries are only as useful as the health of the student bodies, and this is especially true for younger students.
One of the most important things for elementary and high school students is access to quality food, both at school and at home. According to the ConnAgra Foods Foundation, child hunger is "a major issue" in America: "During the 2009-2010 school year, 20 million children received free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program, but only 2.3 million children received meals during the summer months of 2009 through the Summer Food Service Program." That's 17.7 million children that we can only hope were able to eat decently over the summer months while school was not in session.
Shridhar Venkat, who runs one of the largest school lunch programs in the world, Akshaya Patra Foundation, recently was quoted in an NPR story saying, "Feeding a child is not charity." I think most of us would agree. Not only is it not charity, nourishment is the essential element which got all of us adults to where we are today.
Efforts to keep our young population well nourished and well educated will always come back to us tenfold. I support budget increases for libraries and food programs simply because the health and wellness of today's youth is a direct indicator of who our leaders will be in a few decades. Programs like Akshaya Patra and the M.N Spear Memorial Library are the glue of society that keep food on our children's plates and education flowing through their minds. Let's support them!