Perhaps you’ve seen graphics from the Rescue My Library campaign around the valley lately. If not, here’s the short-list of why libraries are the backbone of a community — providing so much more than books and media — and why you should vote yes. As if you need another reason to support literacy in our community… but I’m getting ahead of myself…
- Don’t be distracted by semantics: The Henderson Libraries serve residents valley-wide. (And PS: It is not a part of the City of Henderson, but actually a special tax district with a board that oversees it.) That’s why people like me — who live on the other side of Henderson border get the benefit of programs and community events (like the toddler story time!) — not to mention books, CDs, movies, ebooks, and more. The truth is, for many valley residents, the budget cuts at Clark County Libraries which may be geographically closer to our homes, mean less programs and a less-desirable library experience. Let me put it another way: All the stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood leap-frog over the county library nearby and don’t think twice to drive more than 10 miles out of the way to get to the Paseo Verde branch of the Henderson Libraries.
- Doing more with less only lasts so long: The Henderson Libraries hasn’t received a rate increase since 1991, when the city had 65,000 residents. Today the city has 265,000 residents but they make due with far less than other area libraries. Henderson Libraries currently receives $5.75 per $100 assessed property valley. Meanwhile, North Las Vegas, Boulder City, and the Las Vegas Clark County Library District ALL receive more ($6.32, $8.55, and $9.42, respectively). And yet, as I said earlier, Henderson has been providing some really great programs and community resources (not to mention all those books). But their budget has been cut by 30%. And there’s only so long you can make something out of nothing. If the Henderson Libraries does not get this rate increase — a two-cent increase — they will close two branches and the related staff and programming will be cut.
- True costs: How much do you save by being able to borrow materials from the library? How helpful is it to have this resource — especially now that even retail bookstores, movie rental shops, and record stores are closing? There’s a calculator for that.
- Literacy: Studies show (PDF) that children’s literacy is greatly improved by access to summer reading programs and preschool reading programs at public libraries. And children’s literacy is a building-block of adult literacy. When I was in college I interned at a non-profit that worked on illiteracy, targeting at-risk youth. I worked in their summer reading program at an elementary school with one of the lowest rates of economic depression in the state (Oregon). This meant that most of the kids who went to that school were enrolled in summer school — even if they were good students — simply because it was a cheaper alternative to child care. At the end of the program each child got to pick out one brand-new book to keep. For all but just a few of the children, it was the first book they ever owned. Maybe you don’t “own” the books at the library (although, as a tax-payer I would argue we do), but the libraries are a place where the socio-economic realities that push the starting line so far back for so many can be equalized. And that’s like a small miracle in the life of a child who has already had to learn how to be hard in the face of a world that cuts them no breaks. (And yes, I speak from experience as a former welfare child.) There are very few individuals who could buy every child a book and start them on the road to literacy. (And it’s been shown that access to books in childhood is one of the biggest predictors of literacy.) But all of us together can buy a kid a building full of books. That is a miracle.
- None of the Above: Nevada has been in the hot seat for having a “None of These Candidates” option on the ballot when voting for president (and other offices). But in this case, I want you to consider another way that libraries are important: An educated electorate. As a former news reporter who covered elections and interviewed many involved in the process, I can’t tell you how often the phrase “educating the public” comes up. Indeed, Benjamin Franklin created America’s first lending library in part because it is a cornerstone of unbiased information (and how often can we say that in our own modern times?) and a valuable tool for citizens to be educated — and therefore, make educated decisions in the voting booth. You want your community to improve? You want your neighbors to care about politics? That means staying on top of current events — and that means literacy.
These days, there are a lot of people talking about how nobody reads anymore. But that’s just wrong. People are reading ALL THE TIME. People are on Facebook, on Wikipedia, on blogs (thank you). They are using e-readers to read virtual copies of books. They are downloading newspapers to their tablet devices. People still read. And people read books — with pages and paper and bindings — too. But the fact is, there’s all kinds of other stuff besides books that libraries do for people in our community every day. Book programs for shut-ins. Reading groups for senior citizens. After-school and summer programs for youth. Did I mention toddler story time? Some libraries have art galleries. Some offer space for meetings and workshops.
But more than that, it may just be the last free space that is truly free and there for everyone — homeless, young, old, rich, poor, and any race under the sun. We are all welcome there. We are all equal there.
Doesn’t that seem like a space too valuable to lose?