At the age of 91 Ray Bradbury, author of Farenheit 451 among other sci-fi classics, passed away in Los Angeles last Tuesday. Always the avid reader, Bradbury once confessed "'Libraries raised me…I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” But could a young Bradbury have the same experience today? Due to budget cuts many communities around the nation are unable to provide full library services and others have shut down entirely.
Yet, public libraries continue to play a vital role in society, even in the digital age. For many – especially the poor, the elderly and those in rural areas – the library is often the only place they can gain access to the wealth of knowledge circulating the Internet.
Yet bridging the digital divide is but one of the ongoing attractions of public libraries. While books continue to make up the heart of these institutions, new technology has changed the format of many stories to CDs and other audio files; many libraries even check out MP3 players such as iPods containing pre-downloaded books. Movie-enthusiasts will delight to know that libraries often offer sizable DVD collections for their patrons’ enjoyment. These new services represent libraries’ ability to keep up with the changing times.
Yet, public libraries must now don a brave face in the struggling economy; they remain heavily dependent upon a receding tax base for their primary funding source. But, the crucial role that libraries play in our communities means that we can’t allow them to fall prey to financial issues and jurisdictional debates. The more people with library cards out there, the more community advocates public libraries gain – people who’ll petition against attempts to cut back on library services through future budget cuts.
Let’s band together to keep the doors of the nation’s public libraries open to all. Make sure to join your nearest public library and encourage your friends to get their library memberships too!