Friday, December 21, 2012

Our Library

I've written here before about our visits to the local public library.  While I check out picture books and nonfiction that appeal to me, Frances and Gloria also check out books, puppets, book & CD kits, and DVD's that they select themselves.  Frequently, Gloria selects the same board books over and over again, even at four years old.  And sometimes their selection is one we read dutifully and ship right back to the library.  But every once in a while, one of their selections really surprises me.  For instance, Gloria's choice of It's a Little Book was a happy find.  I also wrote about her choice of Ooh La La Polka Dot Boots here.  When Gloria chose Our Library a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a sweet read, considering how much we love the library.  I had no idea how impactful this book would be for me personally.

This book begins with Miss Goose, the librarian, telling a group of young animals that the library is going to close.  The animals can't believe it, and when they ask why, Miss Goose tells them that the building is too old and need a new roof.  The group of animal children thinks hard, checks out books on making a new roof, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.  But then Miss Goose tells them that the library needs money.  And the group does the same thing - check out a book.  Then "we read by day, and we read by night." (p. 9).  They find a way to earn money.  Then the library must be moved to a new location.  But instead of throwing up their hands (paws?) and giving up, the animals check out a book and figure out how to get the job done.  Their final hurdle is a substantial one, but these library lovers can tackle that, too.  And when they are finished, the library is a richer place - not only for their efforts, but for their love and belief in the library.

Eve Bunting shows library advocacy at its most primal in this story.  Not only does this book show young readers a group of their peers working for something they believe in, but she also shows them working together for a common goal.  These library lovers want their library to survive, and as young as they are, they are willing to learn any skill to save it.  I also love that a huge part of their advocacy plan includes learning these skills at the library itself.  They quite literally would not be able to achieve this goal without the library.  In a way, the library saves itself through its information.

It goes without saying that I am a library lover.  Ever since I was old enough to sign my name on the paper card, I have been a prolific library user.  I have always seen libraries as a place of refuge, information, and kindred spirits.  I grew up using a small county library in San Diego, where the librarians all knew me, and saved the children's discards for my own personal collection (I still have a few!).  Once I became a librarian, I moved from community to community precisely to provide services to children and teens.  It has always been a job I loved, a job where I felt I could make a difference, a job where I could change lives.  My final children's librarian job was in Glendale, Arizona, as the Youth and Teen Services Coordinator at the Glendale Public Library.  I worked there for five years.  At that time, it was an amazing system, with a huge emphasis on welcoming the patrons who will impact services in an ongoing way - young people.  Glendale was a place I was proud to work for, with incredibly talented, enthusiastic librarians in every department in every branch.

You may have heard stories of what has been happening in the Glendale libraries, but it is nauseating and dizzying.  Even before I left Glendale, as the economy spiraled downward, services were being cut left and right.  I should say that this blog post is, of course, my own interpretation of these events, but it has also been reported by the media.  Look at articles from this past year here, here, here, and here.  Cuts continued to happen as the City Council took money from every possible part of the budget to support the sports complex that had built right before the recession hit.  Then the real shock - it was announced that the libraries might lose hours, materials, programming, librarians and possibly even close buildings to help make up an enormous budget shortfall.  This happened to other departments within the city of Glendale as well, but what was most important to me were the libraries.

But something happened in Glendale.  There had always been a very vibrant teen volunteer group in our libraries.  In fact, as services, hours and staff had been cut, our teen volunteers had done more and more work to help continue to provide quality services to patrons.  And when the news hit that their library would be dreadfully impacted, these teenagers (none older than 18 when this began) stood up and said they would not let this happen.  They formed a group - called Save the Glendale Public Libraries and they bounded into action.  These teens were patrons I knew very well - they used the library on an almost daily basis.  Some of them even want to become librarians themselves.  They intuitively knew library advocacy, and started attending the City Council meetings, speaking eloquently in protest of the cuts.  They handed out flyers in front of the libraries and informed Glendale citizens of the service cuts and how this would impact their lives.  Of course, these cuts didn't just affect children's and teen services.  They affected job seekers, information retrieval, patrons who rely on the library for medical research, the latest news or even air conditioning when there is no respite.  These teenagers spoke up.  I have quite possibly never been as proud as I was of these teens.

And they turned the tide of the discussion.  Voters came out and voted against the proposed cuts.  But sadly, just because these teenagers won the battle doesn't mean they won the war.  The libraries continue to operate on very tight budgets, and the librarians feel so uncertain that they are leaving and not being replaced.  All of their skills, enthusiasm and ideas cannot be replaced.

But this is a story about library advocacy.  I haven't even talked about the sweet illustrations and the perfect ending in the book, because in reality it doesn't always work that way.  It's why I believe a book like this is so crucial in communities.  A library is a privilege, not a right.  It is an incredible gift, and it should always be treated that way.  Celebrate your library.  Go in and say thank you and articulate how important it is to you.  Go in and say what you think should be changed, too - that is also part of library advocacy.  But stand up for your library before it stands empty because no one fought for it.  I am so grateful that Gloria brought this book home.

Our Library.  Eve Bunting; illustrated by Maggie Smith.  Clarion Books, 2008.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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