Libraries are essential public goods.
Like our public parks and museums, public libraries are free, non-commercial gathering places for everyone, regardless of income. If information is power, then libraries are the essence of democracy and freedom. In these times of economic difficulty, more people are using them than ever, to do more than merely check out books.
Yet our nation's public libraries appear to be under threat by a litany of cuts, forced upon them by state and local committees, cuts that often began before the recent economic downturn. In a survey conducted by the Library Journal, 93% of large libraries reported having laid off staff, cut their opening hours, or both. In several states, including Indiana and Michigan, library branches have permanently closed their doors.
In a new Huffington Post series called Libraries In Crisis, we'll be looking at how today's libraries are about more than books. We'll show how they can be a community resource where reliable information and guidance is provided, free of bias and commercial influence.
This occasional series will look at the economic reasons for the current situation, and its consequences throughout the country. It will showcase models for library evolution, and hear from prominent voices about what makes a viable and vital library system.
As digital media increase in popularity, this is the moment for a national conversation about what a library is, and what it can be, beyond books on shelves; of what we expect from our public services, and how we would like to see our tax revenue spent. When local libraries are threatened, people are prepared to stand up and fight for them, as recently seen in Chicago and Detroit.
In June 2010, New York librarians staged protests against proposed budget cuts totaling $37 million. They called their campaign "We will not be shushed."
The time has come for libraries to speak up.
Read the first piece in our series, "The Death Of The Public Library?"