Friday, September 3, 2010

The Future of Libraries and Why I Care

I don't know if it's the same way where you live, but California has but cutting back the hours and days that the library system is open. There's even talk of closing a few down, shifting the books to bigger branches and not purchasing many new ones. It's very sad to see and I don't think people understand what the library means to the community. I know I didn't until just recently when I started to use mine.

Not long ago, I didn't even see the library as an option for me. I bought all the books I wanted to read and always had a huge stack to get through at home. It was a luxury, something that I chose to spend my hard earned money on. Since writing full time, I've had to watch my spending a little more, not buying every book I want the day it comes out (of course, Mockingjay the exception). There was something about going out on Tuesday and buying them right away, even if I wasn't going to read it until months later. It was thrilling to look on my bookshelf (and I must add, still is!) and see so many unread books to choose from. It was like having my own library at home, but I was able to read them at my pace and not worry about a return policy or late fee. Another thing, and this may make me a little weird, I always thought about where the book had been. I'm no germaphobe (is that a word?), but the thought of hundreds, if not thousands of people bringing these books into their house kind of gave me the chills and not in a good way.

My mind changed a little when I got my Nook. My library system has ebooks that you can check out. I went to my local library (that's seriously less than a mile away from my house) and got a library card. I couldn't believe how easy it was. I was looking through their ebooks instantly. It's so convenient, it's ridiculous. You browse the ebook catalog at home, get on the wait list (if there is one) and when it's available they send an email. All you have to do is click on the link and download the book, loading it into your nook from the USB cord. You have the book for 21 days and once the time is up, it's returned to the library's system. No need to worry about late fees, the ebook does it for you! No need to worry about the germy hands that touched the book before you! I've read several books this way, and I have to say, it's magical. It feels as if I own the ebook and the time allotted is a lot longer than I would ever need to read a book.

I was shocked this week when I went to the library to write. I decided to give the books a chance, and went to check out the crochet books they have available. There was a book I saw they had in their catalog that I'd been wanting to get, but didn't want to spend the $20 on. I couldn't believe it when I saw it sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to check it out. While I walked the shelves, I was shocked at how busy the library was. Who said no one uses the library system anymore? There were people there of all ages, most of them ready to check items out. In fact, I couldn't find a empty seat near a table, and ended up writing with my laptop on my lap. Everyone seemed happy to be there, among so many books that they could check out for free. There were several people with huge stacks of books, the look on their faces was like they had hit the lotto jackpot.

I understand that with a state that is as poor as California is right now, there needs to be cuts somewhere, but how can you take away something that makes so many people happy? I bet most people there don't have the extra income to buy all of the books they were checking out. Books are expensive, and like I said earlier, are a luxury.

I was completely converted to a library user as I walked about with my two crochet books (one not even in print anymore!) Hey, next time I may even check out a YA book or two.


Jennifer Hoffine said...

Selfishly, as an audiobook listener, I'm very concerned about library cuts. They've even talked about cutting inter-library loans, which would kill me since I've already listened to almost all the YA our library has. I use audiobook downloads from the library, but they're limiting the number of new books on that also.

So I'm doing the opposite, going from library use only to Audible. At least it's more affordable than audiobooks used to be. (Now $10-20 rather than $25-100 for CD audiobooks).

But overall, I'm worried about accessibility of information, resources, and entertainment to those who need it most. Cutting library services increases the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Tami Klockau said...

I totally agree Jennifer. I looked around when I was there the other day and there were several older couples that were going through the dvds/audio books. I'm sure they can't afford the expensive price of dvds and audio books today. Where is their entertainment going to come from when the libraries close/stop getting new items? They looked so excited to be there and checking out new items.

Anonymous said...

My town's library is having a record breaking year right now - by almost 3x our previous volume. Everyone is feeling the economic crunch and people are pouring into libraries not just for books they don't want to pay for but to use computers and librarians to beef up resumes and find new jobs, homes, and learn about investment opportunities and smart financial solutions.

Libraries aren't just about getting books on the cheap - it's about building a community and helping those in the community with the least recourses available to them. It's a great place for lectures, art, and community meetings.

I'm so blessed to have a wonderful library in my hometown and a community who values it. Libraries really are a corner stone of the community.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I don't use the library as much as I used to, but I think it's a vital part of the community. I've also been exploring ebooks at my local library.

Tami Klockau said...

Megan, totally agree. I was amazed at how many programs they had this summer for teens/kids and even adults. I would never have thought before going in there, to be honest. Great to hear your library is doing so well!

Medeia, I definitely recommend it if your library has any kind of ebook library. It's awesome! Also, for $15 a year, I believe, you can get a library card from the Philly library system and they have a TON of ebooks.