As a writer, researcher, and reader, I have been troubled by the recent headlines about the proposed cuts to funding for the New York City Library system. In New York City, $43 million is to be slashed from the library's budget--which will result in the loss of some truly important community services that only the library offers. Free classes to help people find jobs and gain computer skills will cease. The quantity of books and DVDs will be cut by one-third. Staff cuts will result in slower service and fewer jobs in an already difficult employment market. And twelve libraries may close altogether. Of the libraries that survive, their doors will no longer be open six days per week; they will be open for only four. New York City is not alone--financial woes are threatening libraries across the United States.
Making it more inconvenient for people to use public libraries is tragic. For some people, the library may be the only place where they have access to computers. For voracious readers, the library helps keep a healthy reading habit affordable. For most anyone, it offers the chance to broaden one's horizons, discover new things, and better oneself.
[Photo: My favorite New York City Public Library Branch-- Jefferson Market]
I recently read Andrew Carnegie's autobiography, and was surprised at how great a role a single library played in his ultimate success in life. Growing up in poverty, Carnegie was forced to stop attending school when he was 13, and took up a job as a bobbin boy in a Pittsburgh factory, making $1.20 per week. From there, he operated a furnace for $2 per week, and rose to the position of being a clerk thanks to his ability to write and calculate numbers. From a clerk, he became a messenger for the nearby telegraph company--a job that allowed Carnegie "to really get started in life." Surrounded by newspapers and the business of the world, Carnegie was learning constantly.
Most importantly, however, was the announcement by Colonel James Anderson that he would open his private library (of 400 books) to "the boys" working in the telegraph office. These young men were allowed to take a book each Saturday and exchange it for another one the following Saturday. Carnegie took full advantage of this offer, reading constantly to improve his mind. Later in life, Carnegie still felt such gratitude for Colonel Anderson's generosity with his books that Carnegie was inspired to donate millions of dollars to open public libraries so that all who wished to read and improve themselves would be enabled to do so. Thanks to a donation of over $5 million to the New York City Public Library system, 68 new libraries were built, with an additional 20 libraries built in Brooklyn. In the end, Carnegie was responsible for the creation of over 2,500 public libraries. I was pretty happy to discover my local library is just one of his gifts.
Libraries are extremely important, and while some funding cuts may be necessary, closing locations, reducing the number of books available, and cutting the hours that libraries are open are only going to lead to fewer people being able to use libraries. Who knows how many Andrew Carnegies are out there who stand to benefit immensely from gaining free access books. I hope a way is found to keep libraries functioning and accessible to the public without reducing their funds so drastically. I have written to my local public officials voicing my concerns. If you are a New Yorker, you can also do so by clicking here
and then clicking on "help protect NYPL."