Thursday, March 24, 2011

Teens, in the library

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Unshelved offers a humorous but actually rather upsetting take on budget cuts for libraries. This week's strip (which essentially begins here) looks at the possibility of budget cuts to various library programs (originally mistakenly assumed to be storytime). While obviously not delving into the true problems behind budget cuts, today's strip does display the difficulties in cutting programs.

My middle school was located right by one of my public libraries. In the afternoons after school, my friends and I would all head over to the library, park our bikes outside and descend on the stacks. There we would find many of our classmates already situated in their favorite couches and seats. Some would sit at the three tables outside, the low benches and the sliding glass door giving the feeling to those sitting there that they were still within the library but allowing them the luxury of laughing as loud as they wanted to. My friends and I would typically sit at the designated "study" tables inside - round tables by the "New Arrivals" shelves - where we'd pull out our oversized history textbooks, the latest book we were reading (swapping copies, just to see what the other was into these days) and our often messily organized binders.

Sometimes we'd see our friends going into the teen section, sitting down with an adult or high school student, poring over a notebook or textbook. Many of the students took advantage of the library's teen study programs in order to catch up on subjects they struggled with. In the meantime, the rest of us would sit and study together, using the library computers to do research, carting around about fifty different reference books in order to find the answer to a single bonus question on a homework assignment and checking out dozens of books between us (which we'd then have to find some way to carry on our bike rides home).

Last time I visited this library two years ago, a big sign hung next to the entrance. It showed plans for rebuilding the library, including adding a large media center, a specifically for-teens study center, adding another two or three rooms for quiet study and adding significant room to the stacks. Next to this poster, the library had posted a plea to taxpayers, asking them to vote for a city bond that would pay for this project.

Though the measure passed in this one town, I know that in similar situations around the U.S. (and the world), the outcome is very different. It's hard to convince a taxpayer that spending money on a library will actually benefit the entire community. Though it's true, from the youngest children enjoying storytime, to moody teens gaining a wonderful place to learn and study with the help and support of a well-educated and dedicated staff, to the unemployed seeking computers and resources to find a job or write a resume and to the elderly, simply enjoying an afternoon discussing a good book (or getting the opportunity to read again, thanks to audio or large-print books).

So if someone asked me to cut programs from the library, I'd struggle. Local libraries do so very much for the communities around them... it'd be almost impossible to decide which program isn't "worth it". But I know one program I would never cut. Teens may not be the favored demographic when it comes to library budgets, but in the long-run I believe that by putting your money there, you really are putting your money in the future. My classmates and I benefited immensely from our local library - I'm sometimes saddened to think of the fact that most other kids didn't get that opportunity.

2 comments:

  1. All these cuts to libraries are so sad. I think I went to the library about twice a week when I was a teenager.

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  2. Wonderful post...I am part of a Friends of the Library Association, and spend four days a week helping to run a used bookshop at our library, so I see first hand how important the library is to our community. We have a school very close to our library; the teens that come in regularly make good use of the space, and I am so glad that there is a place for them to come to that has such positive influence.
    Budget cuts are hard and necessary, but my sentiments will always tend to a hands-off the library attitude.

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