From 10 am until 1 pm, I stood outside the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, and solicited signatures to send to the Seattle City Council. I did this, because the entire library system for the city of Seattle has been shut down. You can't even drop books to be returned, though no fines will be collected, either. While the economy isn't getting any worse, it's not getting any better at the moment, and budgetary problems are a continuing concern. The same, exact thing -- closure for a week -- may happen again next year, if the Seattle City Council decides that more budgetary constraints have to be put in place, which is a distinct possibility.
This is a truly appalling situation. I don't blog often about libraries, though they are very important to me, as a writer. However, I did blog blog earlier this year about what was happening with the Seattle Library System. And it doesn't look as if anything much has changed. This is very bad, since the way libraries are used has changed greatly in the past few years, especially with the recently-completed building project which as expanded the library system, built some new libraries in places that didn't have them, and remodeled a number of older ones so they have more patron capacity and greater ability to keep books and other resources that people need.
In this economic situation, this is especially important, since a lot of people are looking for jobs, and the Seattle Public Library System has one of the best collections of job search resources in the region. Furthermore, there are a lot of people -- I talked to one of them today -- who don't have their own computers, though they have e-mail addresses. They rely on our system for access to computers, just to "keep in touch". As the Seattle City Librarian mentioned today at a rally in front of the Central Library mentioned, the library system serves everyone from Bill Gates to the homeless. I should mention that some of these homeless people use the library, not only for shelter against the elements, but to find jobs themselves, so they won't be homeless any more. And there's more, much more. The Gentle Reader can learn a great deal more about the difficulties people are having now that the library is closed for a week.
I realize "things are tough everywhere" and that everyone will probably have to "take a cut". However, it seems to me to be a very consistent pattern, that when economic times are hard, the first thing local and national governments always seem to want to do, is cut funds for education and for essential services like hospitals, health care, children's welfare, and so on, so that agencies and systems concerned with these things have to fight over very small pieces of a budgetary pie. This is exactly what has happened in Seattle. I was at the City Council meeting where the Council decided to cut the library budget by about 60%, which is the reason that the library system is now closed for a week. I am also aware that this is not only a problem in Seattle. If it was, I probably wouldn't be blogging about it. It is a problem on a national, and perhaps even an international scale -- I also talked to a very chatty librarian from Sweden, who was absolutely appalled that the library was closed for a week. I have a feeling they don't do things like that in Sweden, whatever else they might do. My purpose here is to raise awareness. not only locally, but perhaps worldwide; libraries, as I said earlier, are important to the health of any community, however defined, and they should not be made to scramble for a tiny piece of the budgetary pie, even or especially in hard times like these, when so many people need the kind of services they increasingly provide. Libraries are an important part of a generalized "education system" available to anyone in a community, and should remain fully funded at all times.
End of rant,