Lyn recently wrote a lovely post describing a day inside the library and all the amazing things she saw happening. She saw all kinds of moments that clearly created value for all the people who were in the library at the exact moment she was working on her post.
Right after I read Lyn’s piece in its initial draft form, I read a press release from the State Library of Oregon about library funding issues throughout the state. While funding cuts to libraries are hard for everyone, they can be especially challenging for library workers, who are often asked to continue to provide the same level of service with fewer resources as if we are some kind of magicians (narrator voice: librarians are not magicians). What this means is that substantial library funding cuts require cuts to services…but I don’t need to tell y’all that since many of you lived here when Jackson County lost library services altogether. We live in a community that knows about library service reductions.
Then, a few days later, I was talking with a community leader about libraries and the good they do, and she expressed how obvious it was to her that having a library in a community is a benefit to the whole community, whether each member of the community uses it. And by this she meant: each individual community member benefits from the library’s existence.
This is not a situation where we are talking about the library users benefiting at the expense of the non-library users. No. Everyone benefits. Each one of us. This also seems obvious to me, but I’m biased. In addition to having a strong pro-library bias, I also really like research, so I figured I’d just dash off a quick blog post about why we should all be pro-library even if we don’t use them. It turns out that this is not quite the topic to be quickly dashed off, so welcome to my meta blog post in which I describe the act of researching my blog post to you. Fun times!
To shamelessly paraphrase John Green: “Let me explain to you why I [support libraries] even though I don’t personally [use them]: I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.” At the time he wrote this, Mr. Green was talking about supporting taxes for schools even though, at the time, he did not have any children. He was also being a bit glib; it’s not like “stupid people” are the problem. As more recent history shows, it’s the havoc that uniformed or uneducated people can wreak when their ill-informed ideas metastasize into widespread mis- and dis-information. The same argument applies to libraries. The parallel becomes obvious when you reflect on the famous Neil Gaiman quote (at least to librarians): “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A Librarian can bring you back the right one.” In an era marked by widespread mis- and dis-information, isn’t it nice to have a resource that is here to help you access accurate information about all manner of things…and not just for you, but for other members of your community as well? We all benefit from having a well-educated, well-informed community. So, from a purely objective standpoint, offering the communities we live in access to accurate and timely information about topics of all sorts does have far-reaching positive effects to every individual within the community because we all have access to the same shared information.
You can also find studies that talk about things like property values and the positive impact libraries have on them. Honestly, the number of research rabbit holes one could go down when determining the value of a library to a community would really stack up. But here’s the thing, none of that matters because WE LIVE IN JACKSON COUNTY.
Why does this matter? BECAUSE we are a county that lost our library services in what, at the time, was called the “largest library shutdown in the United States.” JCLS shuttered on April 6, 2007. As should be obvious by the fact that this is being written by someone who is employed by Jackson County Library Services, WE ARE NOT CLOSED ANY LONGER. We reopened in an impressively short amount of time and were providing less robust services than we had previously by October 24, 2007. Really, we need to look no farther than the fact that community took one look at a future that included no library services and, as a democratic community, decided that wasn’t the way we wanted their community to be…so slowly, we got our funding sorted out. If you want to read more about the conversations the community was having at the time, it’s easy to access the Ashland Tidings stories from the time leading up to and during the closure using library resources. (No, I’m not being Ashland-centric in my recommendation, it’s just we don’t have online access to the Medford Tribune from 2006-2008.)
The community is still full of people who remember what it was like to NOT have a library. We reopened the libraries and through community support formed a Special Library District that ensures our funding is safe. This was possible, in large part, because people realized their community was better with library services. And we should trust our neighbors of the past when they say: we didn’t like not having a library. Honestly, in a nutshell, that’s why having access to a public library is important for the whole community: because when we test the hypothesis of whether we can live without them (and not somewhere else, right here in Jackson County), the answer is “NO, we’d like them back, please!”
We are happy to be here and a part of the Jackson County community!