THE LIBRARIES THAT REFUSED TO DIE

THE LIBRARIES THAT REFUSED TO DIE

A library coming back to life deserves celebration! 

Today I went to the launch party for the summer reading program at Roseburg Library. It was packed! There were balloons, games, puzzles, card games, and even individual servings of ice-cream made the library way. Kids (with adults) got zip-locked bags of cream tucked within zip-lock bags of ice. They shook the bags until the heavy cream turned to ice cream. Very cool!   

As I walked around the room, I almost forgot just how special this day was for the adults, kids and librarians.

This is the first summer reading program in two years! 

When I asked a mom what this meant for her and her kids she said, “We used to come for preschool story time. When the library closed, whenever we drove by the kids would say, can we go and hear stories again? What do you say to them? Today, I get to say yes!”

If you’ve ever wondered, is it really possible of the public library institution to go away, the answer is yes. 

Why did the library close?
In 2016 all eleven libraries in Douglas county, a poor county in a once thriving timber capital, did just that. Counties once flush with funding from federal timber safety net program now must cut resources by public ballot. 

Why did people vote no?
For three days, wherever I went, I asked people why they voted to close the libraries. Curiously, no one acknowledged voting no but all had a reason why others did.

The old guy at the gym confided, “I didn’t vote. I grew up poor and spent a lot of time at the library.” Then he said, “Just because we all want a buggy whip doesn’t mean we need one.”  

The young guy talking at a meeting said, “My friend is a libertarian. He wasn’t voting against the library. He just wanted the people in charge to be accountable for how they were spending tax money.”  

The woman at the antique store made me laugh. “Those clowns down the street believed that we don’t need libraries anymore. We can get everything on line”

I heard, “We can get everything online for free” again and again.  As I did some research that seems to be the stock answer.  

I try to take an objective viewpoint on rural issues, but access to knowledge lives dear to my heart. Maybe too close. As a city person, coming from the land of Powell’s books, the largest, independent, brick and mortar bookstore in the world, I got spoiled. I have to admit, I didn’t understand the threat to libraries and the impact that would have on so many people who rely on them for far more than books.

Now, as I travel through these rural communities and personally rely on libraries for wifi and research, I can’t imagine life without a library, especially in rural communities. 

My hope is that people from all persuasions and perspectives read my blog. If, by chance, you are one of the folks who voted “no,” or even if you lean heavily into internet learning and ebooks, here are some interesting facts about ebooks versus print books and libraries versus the internet.

~ “According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales in the U.S. has declined slightly to $1.1 billion in 2017 from a year earlier. Both hardcover and paperback books still rule the market, each with approximately $2.8 billion in sales in 2017.”

~ “Print books are better for your health. A Harvard Medical School study last year found that reading a light-emitting e-book before bed interferes with your ability to sleep, with your alertness the following morning, and with your overall health.”

According to the American Libraries Magazine:

~ Librarians guide you to exactly what you need.  I can personally attest to this. While doing research for a variety of rural-focussed issues while at libraries in these communities I often get stumped. I often turn to the the librarian for help refining or refocussing my search. Many have even printed off articles knowing I don’t have wifi. 

“Librarians do not censor. One core value of librarianship, as exemplified by the work of ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation, is thwarting censorship and allowing the free and full exchange of ideas. The internet is a powerful tool for information sharing, but it takes human advocates to stand for information freedom.”

When I interviewed librarians the refrain I heard again and again was.

“We are more than books.
We are more than books.
We are more than books!”

“Libraries are one of the few places left where people can just exist and we ask nothing in return,” said one librarian. “You don’t have to purchase something to hang around, you don’t even have to have a library card. Her fellow librarian chimed in, “Reading literature should always be available and libraries provide the means. Libraries should always be accessible to all, especially in rural areas.”

In every library I visit the computers are almost always in use. It’s not surprising. Fifty-three percent of rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps of bandwidth. A mother in small coastal town without cell phone reception or a landline in her subsidized housing concurred. “I use the library for internet mostly. If I don’t use internet, my bills would be late and my credit would drop. I wouldn’t be able to communicate or keep up with my son’s school things. I wouldn’t be able to connect to utilities, or find anything else to include recreation. I don’t use a hot spot because I have to drive to the next town to find one.” 

And then there’s taxes. Without print shops in most towns at tax season, I’m told by every librarian, “We are swamped with people printing off their forms.”

The good news?

Now two years later, through the work of a very few dedicated library lovers and community connectors who absolutely REFUSED to let “ignorance win,” all eleven libraries are NOW open.  

What’s next? 
This week I’ve been to four. It’s been a pilgrimage, of sorts, to affirm that knowledge and accessibility still reign in their little corner of my state.

I started at Oakland where I met Julia, one of eight people who maintain their volunteer run library. “We are a rural country town with lots of farmers and people who work at mills. It’s very blue collar. We’re not a rich community by any stretch of the imagination, but we manage. ”

The library is open only on weekends. Volunteers organize and run the summer reading program. Between 30 – 60 kids come with their families. They also check out 20 – 80 books a weekend and give away 500 books per year. This, in a town of less than 800. I felt humbled by their conviction and determination.

I wondered how they saw the hopes for the future and wondered what issues they were concerned about.

 “These computers are getting old. We’re going to have to figure out how to get new ones.”

“Oh”, she said, “and social media. We need to be better at social media!  Grantors want to see you have a presence.” (Check out this link spotlighting librarians as the funniest people you’ll know. My favorite is the  fifth one down, Study like a Scholar. Ha!)  Here in the rural counties, every bit of social media and public engagement is critical to build awareness and relevance. Next time you pass a small rural library, snap a pic and post it on your Facebook. Imagine the impact we could all have if  we spotlighted them as much as we do that delicious slice of pie we had a the chi chi cafe. Click the links to see how clever libraries are these days.

Here’s a super fast way help rural libraries:
It’s easy. Just snap, tag and post. Next time you drive by one, stop, take a picture and tag them on your social media post. You will be an instant hero. These folks are too busy keeping their doors open to add social media into the mix. 

Post Notes:
~ To read how each of town brought their library back check out this great New York Times article

~ If you have connection with an organization who might donate funds or that has access to gently used computers (newer than 2015), pop me a note. Just think, you could be part of the rural library solution. How cool is that?!

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