Rita Lussier: Let’s give a quiet cheer for libraries
09/23/2009 01:00 AM EDT
On a recent visit to the Jamestown Library, I happened upon one of the most cheerful statistics I’ve heard in quite some time. The children and young adults’ librarian there, Rowena Dunlap, mentioned that this has been the busiest summer she could remember in her 20 or so years of working at libraries.
A quick look around seemed to confirm what she was saying. There were kids all over the place. Three boys sitting at a nearby table. A brother and sister browsing the shelves. A mother with two girls walking up and down the aisles, searching for a little quiet time in a wired world.
The busiest summer!
Rowena’s words rang in my ears, a sharp and pleasant counterpoint to most of what we’ve been hearing for the past year or so. Jobs are down. Sales are down. Revenues are down. Tourism is down. Income, spending and optimism. Down, down, down. Even the number of sunny days seemed in painfully short supply this summer.
A call to Lisa Davis, Interlibrary Systems Librarian for Ocean State Libraries, confirmed on a statewide level what Rowena had observed in Jamestown. In our 49 public libraries at more than 70 locations, the total number of items checked out this summer are up over the same time last year. The number of items placed on hold are up. New patrons, Web site visits and calls. Up, up, up! Every which way you measure, it’s true. Our libraries are busier than ever.
According to Joan Gillespie, executive director of Ocean State Libraries, there are many reasons for the upturn, many of which are directly related to the downturn we’ve been experiencing in just about everything else. As you might expect, with the drop in the economy, people are more appreciative of the free services the library offers — the books, the movies, access to computers and the internet.
Children have been taking advantage of the many programs offered as a way to keep their skills sharp and not lose ground over the summer. In addition, some libraries have designed special workshops to assist those looking for work, helping patrons with resumés and cover letters, interviewing and job search strategies, Internet listings and computer employment resources.
She points out that all of these services, especially during difficult times, illustrate and reinforce the library’s role as the “third place”, the center of the community. The paradox here, of course, is that at a time when more services are needed by more people, the libraries are feeling the pinch from budget cuts in cities and towns across Rhode Island.
Indeed, across the country.
Take California, for instance, where one author has taken up the fight to keep the funding for public libraries flowing.
“Libraries raised me,” Ray Bradbury said in a recent interview. “When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
A library is a place where we’re expected to be quiet. To keep our voices down. To speak in hushed tones. But Ray Bradbury isn’t keeping quiet. He’s speaking up. He’s making some noise. We all should. Now more than ever.
For the sake of the three boys sitting at a nearby table. For the brother and sister browsing the shelves. For the mother with two girls walking up and down the aisles. Searching for a little quiet time in a wired world.
Rita Lussier can be reached at ReetsAL@aol.com or by mail c/o Features Department, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain Street, Providence, RI 02902
I couldn't agree more!
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