Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Of writers and libraries


I've had some interesting experiences recently.  They have to do with libraries. 


But let me backtrack for a moment.  I learned, long ago, that, for a writer, libraries are, or should be, your friend.  When I started to write my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals -- though it didn't start out "medieval", exactly -- I was able to do a fair amount of initial research in my local city library.  And the librarians themselves were always extremely helpful.  They would go out of their way to help me get books, and even direct me to places where I could get news articles relating to what I was then researching.  And there's always Interlibrary Loan!


I was also cheered to discover that one of my all-time favorite science fiction writers, Ray Bradbury, started his writing career by renting a typewriter in a library near where he lived.  He typed much of his very first writing there.  And I remember my own library experiences as a child.  I remember one experience well:  reading a book about Marie Antoinette, curled up in a chair at my local branch, one warm summer early evening. Or reading library books that I'd borrowed, since we didn't have much money,to my young daughter.  She had her favorites, too.  I discovered the Narnia books there, another big influence in my writing life. And since then,I've discovered many people I know, have had similar experiences to mine.  So I tend to regard libraries as a public good.


But tough economic times now beset us, and as everyone knows, it's not just the national economy that's affected -- local ones are, too, and ours is no exception. The city of Seattle is facing a huge budget shortfall, and at the present time, it only looks like it's going to get worse. While the city is obligated -- and I'm sure everyone supports this -- to protect the budgets allocated to essential services like police and firefighters.  This takes up a fair portion of the budget,and is absolutely necessary.  However,this leaves a relatively small amount for other things, such as social services and libraries. When I recently attended a City Council meeting dealing with these budget shortfall and funding problems, as well as library supporters, of whom I am one, there were a large number of social agencies, all worthy in and of themselves, all crying out for the city to keep them funded.  In other words, the library and all these social agencies were fighting for the same small piece of the budget pie. 


The problem here is, in tough economic times like these, people use libraries more, yet the "instinct", if you want to call it that, for governmental bodies is, to cut funding for these groups and institutions; they tend to be looked at as disposable "frills".  And many people, often the most vulnerable ones, are adversely affected. Since there's a lot of unemployment around here, there are a lot of people looking for jobs. And they use the library,often to go on an online search(remember that, even in "wired" Seattle, there are still a lot of people without Internet access,or even computers). If there are budget cuts, these people will be adversely affected. Or maybe the user is an immigrant, trying to learn English, maybe working toward citizenship, and possibly supporting his or her family so his or her children can have a shot at a better life and education.  Or school and college age students, working on school assignments.  Or homeless people, trying to get out of the sometimes endless Seattle rains.  Even business people can often find things useful to their businesses, in local libraries.  And the library system, ideally, is there in good times and bad, for everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, income level, language proficiency, etc.


It was for this reason that I spent a good portion of Saturday at a semi-annual, and well-known local library book sale, soliciting signatures to present to the Seattle City Council on behalf of our local library.  The event is sponsored by Friends of Seattle Public Library, and I was soliciting signatures on their behalf.  The need is urgent as this snippet from the Friends' blog shows.  The tiny slice of funding for the Seattle Public Library is being cut drastically, which, they claim, will only cause a week's closure at the end of August, a time of low usage in any case. This happened once before, and the economic situation then, was nothing like as dire as it is now. And this slash in funding worries me, not just as a writer who uses libraries, but as a citizen.  As one of the people who gladly signed the petition I passed around said to me, "libraries are an indicator of the health of a local society and economy".  In other words, if libraries are in trouble,we are in trouble as a people.  If people can't get access to the kind of information they feel they need, then we are fast becoming a tiered society of information "haves" and "have-nots", and this, in my view, is not what the Founders of our nation had in mind.


So, while this blog is, and will remain primarily a writer's blog, and I will hasten to add I will avoid "controversial" issues not related to writing, I will be writing,from now on,and from time to time,about libraries and their uses.  It doesn't matter if you live in Seattle,some other part of the country, or some other part of the world.  No matter where you live, what that nice lady who signed my petition said is absolutely true. We, the people, need libraries. We need them for our economic, social,and emotional health.  And  we should all support efforts, wherever we are, to keep these institutions fully funded.

Anne G


Marg said...

I love my library. We are lucky that at the moment they are in the middle of opening a new branch, so there is a lot of funding for new books etc. I would hate to think of it having to close for a week just for budget reasons.

Anne Gilbert said...

Marg, you are indeed lucky. We were, for a while, too. A little over 10 years ago, thanks to passing a bond,there was plenty of money to build new branches and revamp old ones. All these new and renovated branches duly reopened, and a brand-new central library was built, which,I must add,attracts thousands of patrons.And has a beautiful view of a very pretty part of Seattle. Unfortunately, since then, the national economy has been more or less flushed down the toilet, and as a result, there isn't a whole heck of a lot of money for the city to spend. Since you have to keep up things like police and firefighters, for the common good, that doesn't leave much for libraries and the like. And I just heard, as of today, that things are likely to stay this way, at least through 2010. Sigh.
Anne G

Anita Davison said...

I mourne the decline of our libraries too. The big,important ones are still there, like the Bodleian in Oxford and the British Library, it's the small, provincial ones which have downsized and dumbed-down, supposedly not to 'intimidate' readers [odd logic] and as a result they are becoming more like internet cafes. I was brought up on lbrary books to and it was a weekly ritual to go and choose new ones.

Anne Gilbert said...


Libraries serve lots of different purposes nowadays; the ones in Seattle are often community meeting places,as well as book repositories. For this reason, when times are bad,the impact can be very great,and falls on an awful lot of people.