Monday, October 11, 2010

Libraries, education, and more

A very brief posting today. During the past week I read several articles that proclaimed the importance of education in a democratic society. One included a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education." Elsewhere, similar sentiments were expressed in slightly different language. Clearly libraries were not expressly referred to by the late president or the pundits who echoed this theme, but it takes no stretch of the imagination or definition to include them. Yet somehow, without appreciating the irony libraries are excluded from the definition of educational institution when it comes to funding. It would be easy enough to excoriate the officials who determine funding priorities for not recognizing the value of public libraries. There is enough vitriol and incivility available on line and in print to make that sort of response unappealing. The best remedies are positive and proactive. Public libraries "pick up the slack" when school libraries are eliminated, funding for after school programs reduced and alternative sites sought for extracurricular activities. These are cogent reminders of the utility of public libraries. When funds for mandatory summer reading materials disappear the public library fills the void. When children and young adults need a safe after school environment and internet access the library answers both needs. It is equally salient to remind community leaders that libraries, far from isolating themselves from public dialogue and community matters avidly engage in civic culture, be it envisioning a community's future through cooperative long range planning or assessing the impact of new parking regulations on the local business district. There are myriad other ways-adult education, services to new Americans for example- in which libraries contribute to community health and well being, and extend the definition of education. Reminders to that effect are essential and positive examples of the public libraries contributing to the common weal.

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