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Defunding libraries: It’s not just about books

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay.

By: Arielle Rinaldi

In recent years, a concerning trend has been forming, in which public libraries are receiving less funding. While this may not initially seem like an excruciating loss in our era of technology—where you can find any book you desire on Amazon—libraries have proven that they provide valuable resources that can’t be found anywhere else.  

A downside of this era is that the use of technology has become forced. For some of us, the internet is something we can reach into our pocket or tap on our wrist to access, but for many it’s much more challenging than that. 

For people who don’t have internet access at home, libraries can be a key resource. The internet in libraries isn’t used as much for things like scrolling through social media sites, it’s used more for research and informational purposes. A public place for everyone to access the internet allows individuals to search for general information, transportation schedules, health information, housing information or employment opportunities. It’s incredibly difficult nowadays to find a job application anywhere other than on the internet. Even when going into a store to ask about a job, the individual is typically directed to a website or shown a QR code to scan which assumes that everyone has access to  devices capable of carrying this out. Libraries not only make it possible for anyone who doesn’t have access to this technology to find work  opportunities but libraries also have job posting boards and often have staff that can aid job seekers in writing resumes and cover letters and help with filling out their application. This is beneficial to everyone, whether they have the technology to do it themselves or not. 

An interview with Rose Simpson, a community technology librarian at the New Haven Free Public Library (NHFPL), highlights that many libraries provide programs to aid those in computer literacy. Computers have become a part of our everyday lives. You use computers when checking out after grocery shopping, signing forms, ordering food and so much more. It’s become critical that everyone learns how to use these devices to get through day to day life. Whether one has a computer at home or not, computer literacy is a critical tool for anyone living in our technology-centered society. This free education is offered to anybody who desires a better ability to navigate in our society and it  provides non-familiar users  access to the internet which creates endless opportunities.  

Simpson also highlights that librarians are useful in a social way as well,  similar to social workers for some individuals. Librarians can help calm upset patrons, give them advice, point them in the direction of reporting resources or even be a good sounding board for people to voice their emotions. Even if the librarians aren’t directly interacting with people, some patrons use the library as a safe space, a place without harm or judgment. It’s also a great place for students to meet and study, do work and potentially get tutoring. 

Not only does the library run programs that can help people in their day to day lives, but libraries also provide fun, artistic, informational programs for a variety of ages. Libraries have been known to provide a multitude of programs like cultural nights, city information sessions, scrapbooking, knitting circles, book clubs, tutoring sessions, author readings, live music, movie nights, citizenship classes and so much more. These are free resources that are extremely difficult if not impossible to get anywhere else. Activities like these create a better environment for people of all ages, children learning to read, artists learning a new craft or just anyone looking for something to do or a group to belong to. 

When challenged with the question of how to stop the defunding of public libraries, Rose responded that she believes the key is advocacy. Many people are unaware of what libraries provide. It’s crucial that everyone knows the various and incredible opportunities that libraries offer, that it’s more than books. Many don’t understand everything that libraries do ranging from social work to providing lessons on technology like computers and even 3D printers or laser cutters 

The defunding of libraries can be seen from a classist perspective. Primarily, those making decisions about the funding public libraries receive is someone who wouldn’t need to go to a library because they have the money and therefore privilege to access many of a library’s resources on their own. But even if one doesn’t use the libraries’ resources, it’s still important that they understand what libraries can and do provide and that they’re advocated for. 

Availability of a library’s resources are pivotal for many. They provide more than books; they provide a livable life for some. Take a walk, make a call, do a search, get involved and see what your local library is doing. 

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