Things are tough all over. Any day of the week one can pick up any newspaper or turn on any local or national news program and it won’t take very long to find a story that focuses on the economy. Often one can find several stories. Regardless of the source, every town, borough, hamlet, village, city and burg is doing its utmost to provide services to the population in a (hopefully) fiscally responsible manner. Many time hard choices must be made, and not all of them are popular. A friend alerted me to one such situation in a small town in England.
Stony Stratford is what we would call a suburb. It is part of the larger city of Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, similar to how Oak Park is “in” Chicago, but is still its own town. The Milton Keynes city council has been trying to figure out ways to cut the budget and save millions of British Pounds over the next several years. In December, a proposal was put forth that included shuttering the local library in Stony Stratford. Now, as Stony is part of the larger local community, residents would certainly be able to visit other libraries in the vicinity, but that was not good enough for the town. In the span of just over a week, residents swarmed the library and checked out every single book. Over 16,000 of them. The citizens wanted to show the council how vital libraries are to the community, so in a planned protest, the citizenry methodically checked out over 300 books per hour until the shelves were empty. People checked out as many books as they were allowed, and continued to spread the message: “Go to the library and take out the maximum of books on your card (15).” Postings appeared on the local government website and a “Save Stony Stratford Library” Facebook page has been stood up, with (as of this writing) over 700 people “liking” the page.
Now library closures are nothing new. Do a Google news search on “library closures budget cuts” and you will get results dating back over 15 years and beyond. Stories appear from all over the United States about local municipalities and state governments slashing monies allocated for libraries. Libraries are often considered “non-essential” or “non-mandated” services. It’s not like a town could close the fire department or the police department, but a library . . .. During portions of my childhood, my mom was a single parent, struggling to make ends meet. While there was always money to put food on the table and keep the roof over our heads, there was almost never money for extras like books, but we never went without. At least once a week, Mom would pack us into the car and take us to the library. We would spend an hour or two looking for books and reading books. We would always come home with a stack of new titles that we would devour through the week. By the time I was in grade school, I am sure I had read almost every children’s book in our local library. As I got a little older, I was allowed to ride my bike to the library and would do so often. When I was in college, I spent time in the library not only for research and study, but also just as a place to go for some quiet personal time.
The point is, lots of different people use libraries for lots of different reasons at different times during their lives. Children can learn to read and hone their reading skills without bankrupting their parents, given the cost of children’s literature. Students can do research and find titles for reading assignments. Current and past newspapers and magazines are available in print or in a digitized version. People who have no means to do so at home can use public computers to access the internet, apply for jobs, and find information to help put them in a position to better themselves or their situations. Some local libraries loan DVDs, CDs, and even e-books. Libraries are not only integral to the community, one could argue that they are essential – maybe not important in the same way as the police or fire departments, but just as important in their contribution to the community.
The people of Stony Stratford have voiced their opposition to the elimination of their library. Make sure the same thing does not happen to you. When tax increase referendums come up on the ballot to give more money to your local library, vote YES. Find out what volunteer opportunities are available, then go and make yourself available. Take someone with no transportation to the library. Spend quality time with your child during the Story Hour. Make so much use of your local libraries that the politicians who want to close them in order to save money will not have any way to support their positions. And when you hear of libraries being threatened with shuttering for budget reasons, get angry and get active. Our libraries are much too integral to be pushed aside.