“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.“
– Isaac Asimov, in his book, “I. Asimov: A Memoir”
Sometimes when I get really angry at people for being whatever negative adjective they are being at the time, generally, I remember the library. The library, to me, is the epitome of human goodness – there’s just so much trust required in order to make the whole system work. I check out a book, and you trust me to return it in a timely(ish) manner so that you can read it later, too. I trust you to not tear out pages from old issues of Real Simple (because you can check out the back issues of magazines at the Los Angeles Public Library, something I just discovered, to my amazement) so that I too can learn all about repurposing dental floss into a cheese slicer. You trust me not to spill (too much) oil or flour on Baking: From My Home to Yours, a gorgeous book by Dorie Greenspan (CIRC 641.71 G8147-1) while I decide whether I would reference this enough to justify its purchase. I do appreciate your marginal notes, though. I trust you to not mark up Louise Erdrich’s fantastic Shadow Tag (FIC ERD), because she writes, extremely well, about the critical importance of space and privacy even within the confines of an intimate relationship, thoughts that more than one person I know, myself included, wanted to highlight and send to our ex’es.
And then there is the trust we have in our local governments to use our tax dollars and funding to support this resource. One of the funniest/saddest things that happened all year happened during the horrific heat wave that saw downtown roasting at somewhere between 105 and 115 degrees. The city’s Emergency Management Department urged the public to seek out cooling centers to be safe. The city also suggested that they seek refuge at one of the LA Public Library’s branches. It was a very good suggestion, except for one thing: on the day the suggestion was made – a Monday that saw downtown LA registering a record-shattering 113 degrees, the hottest day in September since 1877 – all of the city’s libraries were closed. The Central Library and its 72 branches were closed pursuant to the City Council’s decision earlier in the year to close the library on Sundays and Mondays. To save money. Or something. Currently, the library’s homepage is very, very excited to announce that its branches, including the Central Library, will be open on two Mondays this month. That is sad.
Cutting city investment in an institution that does all it can to invest, educate, and empower its citizens is one of the meanest and most counter-intuitive things you can do. Take your we-are-in-a-recession argument and shove it back where it came from: the recession is exactly the reason why cities in general should commit tenaciously to their libraries, schools, and other sources of public education. Tellingly, for all the cuts made this year with surgical imprecision, the police department’s budget was not similarly manhandled. I suppose this makes sense: if people aren’t going to the library, surely they’re committing crimes on the streets. On the bright side, we haven’t privatized our library – yet.
’Tis the season, then, to give a little to our library system. There are a few ways to give: there are, for example, a number of Friends of the Library groups that support specific branch libraries. The Library Foundation of Los Angeles (LFLA) is the umbrella non-profit support organization for the LAPL. Donations to LFLA benefit the Central Library and its 72 branches; they also support the library’s amazing ALOUD series – the same series that delivered Jonathan Gold to the foodies, John Waters to the quirkies, and Natalie Merchant to the children of the ’90s. Your donations also fund amazing exhibits like “Forty Years of Sesame Street Illustration.”
So, this is me, trusting you, again. Thanks for returning that book. And thanks for investing in the library.
Beautiful photo of a wedding reception at the Central Library courtesy bhampton1963 via the Blogging LA Flickr pool.
This post is part of our Sweet Charity: Blogging LA’s Guide to Giving series, just in time for the holidays.