Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A community resource, not a recreational luxury

In a July 15 letter to the editor of the Hartford CT Courant, David Samuels decries closing library branches as "another example of how the lack of opportunities in Connecticut's urban communities contributes to generational recidivism."

Samuels continues:
Public libraries are a vital source of information for urban residents, many of whom lack the funds to travel outside their neighborhoods to take advantage of library services. Libraries provide people of all ages access to reading materials and computers, which they use for job searches and other vocational and educational opportunities. Closing down the two library branches further compromises already insufficient support services for Hartford residents.

Lack of opportunity is one of the root causes of violence in Hartford. City officials need to create opportunities for its citizens to succeed, instead of continuing to marginalize them.

These are good points. Because our city is contemplating an expanded or new library, many people are rightly worried about costs. But this concern can go too far, as seen in a letter sent to our library board. The letter states:
I can't even fathom the talk of a new library ... we have schools that cannot afford to pay for teachers and pay for programs ... we have gang and drug problems, homeless people and people who can't find jobs ... shame on all of you
Compare and contrast these points of view. The difference is in a perception what libraries are, can do, and what they mean for a community. Schools and police do not have all the answers. Education is surely important and the library works with the schools, but we provide educational resources for all -- children and adults who need them and can't pay. Books, job information, employment skills information, Internet access, all of these are part what of David Samuels calls opportunities for citizens to succeed.

Yes, times are tough, but we know from long experience -- and we are seeing it again -- that in tough times, public libraries get busier. The decision of what to do about the library building will be one for the people of this community and their elected representatives. But I can't be ashamed of the need. I'm proud of what we do. I'm hopeful for what we will be able to do, and the positive difference we can make in the lives of our users and our city.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In these desperate times it is vital that libraries across the state continually redefine their message and relevance to the community. This involves not only "saving our stories," but realizing the urgency to "keep telling our stories" as well. When the music stops, the dance is over. As a state, we can effectively say that libraries are a good investment on your tax dollar with statistics, but I'm amazed we miss the second part of that crucial message: librarians are a good investment. Our public schools do a good job at conveying both parts of this message; libraries, as a whole, do not. Libraries and librarians are a good investment, folks!

-Jess Bruckner