I will state right up front that I am a librarian. I am also a big fan of Bill Maher, and have been known to overlook stupid things he's said in the past about any number of topics, especially women. I have been a loyal viewer of his show for years, and have even been a member of the studio audience on several occasions. But as far as I'm concerned he really stuck his foot in it on Friday night's Real Time with Bill Maher (Oct. 14) when he said, "We have the Internet. We don't need a library at all."
For a political guy who fancies himself a progressive and seems buoyed by the Occupy movement, this was a totally arrogant and disappointing statement for him to make, particularly during lean economic times when public libraries are busier than ever. Since apparently Bill doesn't "know anyone who's gone to a library since 1998," I greatly appreciated that his guest Penn Jillette stepped up to mention his own public library where he uses the wi-fi while his kids look at picture books. As Bill admits, he's one of those people who'd end up paying more if Congress would ever get around to passing a bill to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, so it's not surprising that he's so out of touch with the information divide he thinks the existence of the Internet makes libraries obsolete. This is the same misguided thinking that leads otherwise intelligent students to believe that all the information they read online is valid and trustworthy.
I doubt that Bill Maher knows about Measure L, the Los Angeles ballot measure that passed last spring to stabilize funding for the Los Angeles Public Library system. By passing this measure with an overwhelming majority, the people of Los Angeles sent a clear message to the mayor and city council that they value their public libraries -- particularly after a series of drastic reductions to LAPL's 2010 budget resulted in devastating cuts to library staff and hours (including the closure of our Central Library on Sundays and Mondays for the first time in its 139-year history). Fortunately, Measure L has allowed LAPL to restore Monday hours, with additional increases in hours due over the next three years. Since the Fairfax Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library is around the corner from the CBS studio where Bill Maher tapes Real Time, we invite him to see how many "real" folks in the 99% come to the library every day to take advantage of all the services the library offers including free computer access (yes Bill, there are actually people in this town who don't have a computer), free wi-fi, early literacy storytimes and homework help, job search assistance including online applications and resume writing, and free access to the library's vast collection of books, e-media, periodicals, DVDs, and music (including free downloads).
Granted, there are plenty of people who are never going to use the library because they feel their information needs are being met by online resources, but to completely discount an important and valuable public entity like the Library is more than careless -- it's inexcusably ignorant. And to be honest Bill, that's not a word I usually associate with you.