Friday, February 27, 2009

Have you hugged your library lately?


On Tuesday morning, while sipping coffee and feeding Katherine her breakfast, I read a column in the "Family" section of the local newspaper. I was immediately drawn by the headline: "Encourage learning by funding libraries."

Local columnist Jennifer Berry Hawes writes about the joy of bringing home an armload of treasures from the library: “I gaze with great satisfaction at my library booty on the couch: books galore, a book on tape, DVDs and a CD of kids' music.”

It’s easy to take for granted all the library offers – and for free. It’s an amazing service. But in this current economic crunch time, libraries are at a crossroads.

As Jennifer’s column points out and as I’ve read about locally and nationally, libraries are busy places these days. Unemployed workers are using the free computers and Internet access to update resumes, search for jobs or submit electronic applications. People who are dropping NetFlix to save a few bucks find they can check out DVDs at the library for free. Avid readers who might have bought the latest John Grisham novel at Barnes & Noble are checking it out from the library and saving $20. America is rediscovering the joy of libraries.

While we should be celebrating one of our greatest public services, government budget cutbacks are hindering libraries’ progress.

Jennifer’s column points out a survey from the American Library Association, which “found that South Carolina libraries might see a 30 percent cut in state aid.”

Ouch.

So this week I’ve been thinking about libraries. I have loved books since I was born and was the kind of child who preferred reading on the couch to playing outdoors. When I was in elementary school, we went to the school library once a week. I would make a mad dash for the shelves holding the glorious mysteries of Nancy Drew. I would snatch up the latest issue of Ranger Rick magazine, reading the entire magazine overnight because it had to be returned the next day.

As a teenager, I would go to our small public library and get lost in the shelves, sucked into some other world of mystery or romance. To this day, every time I walk into a library, I breathe deeply, taking in that distinct library book smell that has the power to make your imagination come alive.

Now, as a mother, I daily read to Katherine. I take her to the local library, and even though she’s only 1, I’m doing my best to teach her books and libraries should be cherished.

I was so inspired I e-mailed Jennifer Berry Hawes telling her how much I appreciated her column. She had, somewhat in jest, mentioned a Save the Libraries bumper sticker campaign. I eagerly volunteered to help with any such effort.

I received a great e-mail response from Jennifer, who had heard from other library enthusiasts also eager to help. I plan to contact the local library and see what I can do.

If you haven’t been to your local library lately, stop by for a visit. Wander among the shelves, take in story time with your child, check out a movie or pick up the latest bestseller. I guarantee you’ll find our libraries are worth saving.

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