Posted on Wed, Jan. 29, 2003

Lucia Herndon | Librarians get loud over budget cuts
By Lucia Herndon
Inquirer Columnist

I was in a room full of librarians, and they were noisy.

They waved pennants, whistled and shouted.

And there was no shushing them up.

Librarians from across the country gathered last weekend for the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association - usually a quiet kind of crowd.

But libraries are under siege, according to association members. The budget constraints that have shaken many a nonprofit organization have now targeted the libraries. At the noisy rally Friday, members spoke of cuts that could cripple libraries.

Libraries are being forced to make hard decisions. Some have had their purchasing budgets slashed. That means they won't be buying any new books or materials at the Oakland, Calif., libraries until July 1. The budget crunch threatens to close even more libraries as it did in Baltimore, where executive director Carla Hayden saw two branches closed in 2001.

Everyone loves libraries, said Mitch Freedman, president of the association. "But are you willing to speak up and speak out to save them?"

Representatives of different libraries told their stories, then each put a big red "X" on a map of the United States that was propped on the stage. The map got redder and redder as speakers continued to take the stage. "Save America's libraries!" each speaker said, some with anger in their voices, others with more of a plea.

When thinking of the things that make a country great, I have to cite several things: an open government, a free press, a public education system that works, and a fair and impartial judicial system. In that list, I would also include libraries.

Why libraries? Because they have a wealth of information, and it's available to you, me, anyone. At no charge. With information comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes power. For regular people, that means the power to improve their lives in real ways. Finding better jobs, finding medical and health information, helping with school work that will lead to that better job.

How about just a place to take your ease and read? It's all available at a branch near you.

Unless that branch closes, or lays off a part of its staff, or stops buying books and tapes and videos.

It should not be the librarians alone who are noisy. We all should be. Raise a noise with legislators who are wielding the budget ax. Get loud with City Council representatives. Become a Friend of the Library, a group of advocates who support local branches.

Use the library. Go today and see what's there. Get to know the staff and see just how resourceful and helpful they are.

Libraries are a keystone of neighborhood and civic life. Don't let them go dark.

Contact Lucia Herndon at 215-854-5724 or lherndon@phillynews.com.