This is a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club.
In uncertain economic times then the decision makers find it so easy to cut the budgets of entities they view as powerless or unnecessary. Libraries are one of the entities which have been under attack, particularly in the last few years. Eleanor Crumblehulme, a librarian at the University of British Columbia, said that “cuts to libraries during a recession are like cuts to a hospital during a plague.” By cutting the budget of a library or library system in times like we have now then it will make recovery that much more difficult. There are three groups of citizens which are affected by this: children, teens, and adults.
Leonard Pitts, a syndicated columnist, commented on the state of education in the US by saying “This is an argument about the future—and whether the country will have one. The fact is, it cannot in a world where information is currency and American kids are broke.” Libraries can help kids by providing story times, the Paw Pals program so kids can practice by reading to a dog, meet authors, see plays and music performed as well as learn about science.
Teens have opportunities for a safe environment as an alternative to the street or gangs. There are teen advisory groups, homework help centers, book clubs, and college prep centers providing resources their schools may not have the time or staff to deal with. The teens have fun with video games, wii, movie days, and special events like talking to ghost busters or listening to a Ghost Whisperer & Storyteller. Like the kids, they also have access to cultural events such as African drumming and Transylvanian dances. All of these can supplement what the schools do, keep the teens out of trouble, and provide them with resources which they don’t have at home. Also, by providing the homework help and online tutoring then the teens are provided with more personalized help than overwhelmed teachers with overcrowded classrooms can provide.
As for adults, there are so many activities going on in the St Paul system, for example, that an adult can go from branch to branch with little duplication. An adult can practice English, learn basic computer and internet skills, go to Toastmaster meetings, and learn about consumer and health issues. Adults can also get help and times in an area currently of great interest to me, finding a new job. While I have a college career office and resources through professional organizations to help me, many people do not. By providing free job search assistance, computer skills, and job clinics then people have a place to start from. Even means to start networking can be helpful. On the lighter side, adults have cultural options as well. These range from book discussions & author or poetry readings to creative writing sessions and one-on-one discussions with a librarian.
Vartan Gregorian, the Carnegie Corporation president, said that “access to knowledge is a right, not a privilege.” In tough economic times we need to make certain that this right is not taken from those who need it most. I ask you to contact your city council members, state and federal representatives to ask them to support libraries instead of cutting their budgets. I also suggest checking out the Friends of your local public library group to find other ways you can support and defend our libraries.