Libraries Matter, No Matter What

I’m really sad.

LibraryCardHandsFor the last seven years, I’ve been volunteering with Josephine Community Libraries, an amazing group of folks who’ve worked with persistence and dedication to reopen our libraries after they were closed due to lack of funding (leaving 82,000 people without access to any library services whatsoever).

This year, some of us formed a political action committee to put a library district on the ballot. The district would have been completely independent of the government entities that closed the library in the first place.

On Tuesday, my community voted no on libraries. This is my response:

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This is a hard blog post to write.

A majority of voters in Josephine County said “no” to a library district. They said no to investing in our community, to providing a safe place to learn and grow for our children, to ensuring that we always have a place where, regardless of income, we can improve ourselves.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

If you’re a supporter of the libraries, you may be having a hard time deciding what to do next. You’re probably shaking your head, wondering how our county can fail to see that libraries are foundational, that they transform lives daily. Maybe you’re embarrassed to tell family and friends in other parts of the country that you live in a place that won’t fund libraries.

And maybe you feel resentful of volunteering or writing a check to keep the libraries open, feeling as though you are subsidizing a vital community service for the naysayers.

I get it. I really, really get it. I’ve been struggling with those feelings for the last seven years, ever since we began working on reopening the libraries.

But then I remember the election of 2006. I was at the library campaign party when the results were called, and I was busy talking. I turned around to check on my kids, and I saw that my daughter, six years old at the time, was bawling. Just sobbing.

I was taken aback when I learned that the next chance to vote on a library district might not be for another four or five years. My oldest daughter would be eleven. My youngest would be nine. Those are critical reading years. And then I thought of all of their classmates and friends. A whole generation of kids who would grow up without the wealth of information and imagination a library provides…and a generation that would learn a harsh (and false) lesson that libraries, literacy, and education are worthless.

Then I remember the 15,474 people who voted yes. And the over 300 volunteers who give so tirelessly of their time and talent. And the 2,300 people who donate generously, knowing that libraries cost money, that they can’t just operate with a bunch of books and a card catalog.

Many have commented on the dedication of our volunteers and donors. It’s not just a fluke. That tenaciousness arises from the conviction that libraries matter.

Without a library district, drastic changes will need to be made. JCLI simply cannot afford to continue providing the current level of service with current revenue.

I know these changes have to happen, that our libraries will get worse, not better. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by the financial burdens the library faces.  But I try to remember that small actions add up to great accomplishments, and when I volunteer or write out my check, I imagine my contribution helping JCLI provide better library services for even one additional day. That’s one day that thousands of Josephine County children have access to all the books they can imagine. That job seekers can fill out applications online. That seniors can have large-print books delivered to their home. That people of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds can transform their lives.

And it’s one more chance to send the message—to our children and to the outside world—that we care about ideas, education, literacy, and culture.

To find out more, click here.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Libraries Matter, No Matter What

  1. acmoyer

    This is so sad! Some of my fondest memories are of going to the library as a child. Heck, the smell alone is a delight. At the rate I go through books, I would be bankrupt if I had to buy them all…and I shudder to think of having to go without. I cannot imagine what my life would be like–if I would even exist–were it not for the education libraries gave my ancestors. Because of the local library, the children of my self-educated coal-miner great-grandpa became champion debaters, went to college, and their children earned Masters degrees and Ph.D.s. It didn’t make us financially rich, but we could not be richer in spirit.

  2. acmoyer

    My pleasure! You’ve inspired me to go visit my local library–it’s been too long.

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