I'm sure you've heard about the massive state budget cuts that have recently been proposed and will begin to be considered by Texas legislators. They're certainly alarming - the Washington Post reported that the draft would cut almost $14 billion in spending. The cuts would be made in libraries, public schools, universities, criminal justice, and health care (including mental health care). There's no doubt that cuts must be made, but when it comes to what we end up cutting, there's plenty of debate. I'm sure we're in for some, uh, "spirited" discussion in the coming weeks and months, but let's take a look at what could happen should libraries get cut.
Texas public libraries stand to be cut quite dramatically this year - in fact, it puts some significant library funds at nearly $0. Rural libraries, in particular, will be hit hard; many rely on the state funds to function and without the libraries entire rural communities could lose their only source of free computer and internet access among many other services. Public libraries provide classes on job searching and resume writing, provide books and many other types of materials for the educational pursuits of their communities, provide a source of free, life-enriching programming such as children's storytime, help acclimate new immigrants and get them on the path to citizenship, and offer assistance to people needing help locating information, just to name a few of the services they offer.
Since the economic recession hit, libraries are being used now more than ever. This is not a justification for library funding unto itself, but I think this fact raises the question of how Americans that were effected by the recession are to get back on their feet in these difficult times without their public libraries being funded appropriately. I think it's easy in a big city like Austin that hasn't been effected by the recession quite as much as other cities around the country to write it off as unimportant or irrelevant. But, as an employee of the downtown library, I can tell you that I'm at a loss as to where people would go for much needed assistance if not for us. I'm aware of the nonprofit resources out there and they're nowhere near as extensive as all of the resources we offer.
What about the guy I helped the other day that got laid off in 2008 and slowly lost his car and house and is now living at ARCH desperately seeking employment? He uses our books on cover letter and resume writing, uses our computers to search and apply for jobs, and comes to our Job Searching Computer Lab to get assistance from a librarian filling out job applications. What about the lady with two jobs and two kids I helped find some test prep materials so she can finally get her GED and, hopefully, a better job? She uses the test prep books, accesses our Learning Express Library database for practice tests, and takes her kids to children's storytime. What about the recently immigrated woman that needed help learning English so she could get established in this country? She uses our New Immigrants Center to listen to language learning CDs and attends Talk Time, a program for people to come together and practice speaking in English with one another. These are only three small examples of people in THIS city (I could list so many more!) that need the services the public library offers - can you imagine the assistance needed by residents of the harder hit rural towns in this state?
Bottom line, to invest in Texas public libraries is to invest in the future of Texas' citizens and residents. If we are to improve the unemployment rate and make our state and country more economically viable, we need public libraries to be funded well enough so people can take up educational pursuits that will help them in such endeavors. If we are to strip rural communities of library services, it will only serve to further devastate these areas.
Let your voice be heard! The Texas Library Association (TLA) has plenty of talking points and scripts you can use to contact your legislators, friends, acquaintances, family, whoever and let them know how important it is that we fund Texas libraries. Check out the links below for more info.
Library Issues & Taking Action
Join the Texas Library Association on Legislative Day February 16 and help get the word out about the importance of libraries. You can participate virtually too.
Save Our Texas Libraries
"We cannot say we believe in a strong Texas – in promoting education, economic development, and a competitive workforce – if we decrease investment in the very institutions, resources, and staff who equalize learning opportunities for everyone in Texas."
Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy
Library: An Unquiet History
This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All