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    • Julie Parker

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    • April 10, 2016 in Columnists

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    This afternoon, I attended a library event that not only showcased local authors, but also offered tips to create handcrafted book covers. The Local Author Festival was held in The Tsakopoulos Library Galleria at Sacramento, California’s central branch. The original library building opened in 1918 (National Register of Historic Places), and when the city needed to renovate and expand the structure, instead of completely tearing down the old, it was integrated with the new. The city now rents out the Galleria’s beautiful five-story atrium for weddings, business events, etc., and a portion of the profits is applied toward library costs. Preserving the library was a priority.

    That is not the case, sadly, for the 110-year-old Carnegie Library in Lambeth, a borough in south London. According to the BBC, almost 350 libraries in the London area have closed over the past six years, and Carnegie Library was one of the financial sacrificial lambs. It will be converted into a fee-paying gym, and although there will be a room set off to the side with books, there will no librarian, only fitness staff. “In an age of austerity, closing libraries is like closing hospitals in a time of plague.” (Defend the Ten)

    Communities around the United States have also fought the closing of local libraries; some losing, and others compromising with shorter hours, and volunteer staff. And, then, there is Nebraska State Senator Tyson Larson, who sponsored LB 969, which would require that libraries in all cities and villages in the entire state fall under the complete jurisdiction of local mayors and city councils. Therefore, mayoral and/or council-appointed library advisory committees would decide what books would be available for their respective communities to read, not professional librarians. Needless to say, Nebraska’s constituents have an issue with that, including some of the state’s residents in longest standing – The Omaha Tribe.

    “A free, public, independent, taxpayer-supported and locally-controlled public library, with oversight authority remaining independent within the community,” responded The Omaha Tribe Historical Research Project, “reflects upon the very essence of what libraries represent to any surviving and resolute People. Such independent local oversight is absolutely essential for the rights of free People to discern their own way in life, including that of the Omaha (Tribe).”

    In the 1600s, Gabriel Naudé (at Cardinal Richelieu’s behest) assembled and offered advice on establishing a library, which he suggested be furnished with “all principal authors, ancient and modern, obscure or well-known, religious or secular, in the best editions.” That concept was considered quite revolutionary at a time when it was believed that libraries should be inclusive. Instead, Naudé put forth the following: “I think it neither an absurdity nor a danger to have in a library all the works of the most learned and famous heretics.”

    “A library is a focal point,” wrote Ursula K. Le Guin, “a sacred place to a community; and its sacredness is its accessibility, its publicness. It’s everybody’s place.” Indeed, which is why the need to defend the continued existence of libraries is unfathomable.

    This past February, during Color Our Collections Week, libraries around the country offered free, downloadable single-lined illustrations of images from global and digital libraries. (They  are still available.)

    National Library Week (April 10-16) celebrates all libraries – public, academic, and special – and this year’s theme is “Libraries Transform.” It’s an opportunity to share in local libraries and via social media the impact libraries have had on us, with personal stories and anecdotes (Twitter hashtag #LibrariesTransform).

    • April 12 is National Library Workers Day, when the valuable contributions of library staff, administrators, and friends groups are recognized, and celebrated.
    • April 13 is National Bookmobile Day. To rural areas, and neighborhoods where libraries have closed, a bookmobile is a treasured community outreach program.

    After visiting public libraries around the country for three years, “The Atlantic” columnist Deborah Fallows wrote, “To me, each library showed a particular strength and focus, each one reflecting the wants or needs of the different towns.” As an example, she pointed out the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, California, which not only has an outdoor performance bowl, but also a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.

    Public libraries offer much more than books: tutors assist students; storytellers read to toddlers; free internet connection is offered so those in low income situations can look for work or students perform homework research; diverse workshops and classes range from knitting to taxes, genealogy research to bike repair; and, of course, you can check out audio books, music, and DVD films. In fact, some libraries offer printing services for authors wishing to self-publish. In Basalt, Colorado, library patrons can check out seeds. After growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables from those seeds, patrons return the new seeds to the library to lend to others.

    Did you know that Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library houses the largest collection of Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Lehigh University’s Linderman Library houses copies of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and James John Audubon’s four volume “Birds of America” in its rare book collection.

    Collegiate library collections also offer invaluable resources into the country’s historical cultural diversity. Here in California, the Sacramento State University Library houses The Magnus Hirschfeld Collection, which “documents the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lifestyles cross-culturally and over time, with an emphasis on Northern California and the Central Valley.”

    Setting a high bar for the world at large, construction will begin this summer on the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library (to be shaped like an open book) in Al Jadaff, Dubai. It will include over 1.5 million books, 1 million audio books, and 2 million e-books, as well as exhibition space. “We want a dynamic library that will reach you before you reach it and which encourages you to start reading from childhood while supporting you as a scientist, researcher or specialist when older,” said Sheikh Mohammed. “The library will be a compound for books, a community for readers and writers, and an association for content, culture and thinkers.” It will include a center for conservation and restoration of historical manuscripts, and a museum section displaying rare artifacts from the Maktoum family collection. (National UAE)

    And, yet, conversely, our local governments have no problem with shutting down community libraries that offer valuable resources for all income and education levels. Shame on us.



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