Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Value of Libraries

by Jeri Westerson

My library.
Of course I knew this. Libraries are for far more than checking out your library books. They have certainly served as a platform for me to do events and garner more readers. And I spend a great deal of my time--yes, even in this internet age--actually researching for my medieval mysteries in libraries. But lately, libraries have come to mean even more to me: As a place of refuge.

I live in one of those places in southern California that is far from the coastal breezes and cooler air. This region is called the Inland Empire. And like much of Orange County with its Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm fame, it is land-locked. The IE encompasses some pretty vast desert spaces, too, like the Mojave and Palm Springs. Though I don't technically live in a desert, it is just about considered high desert and as such, can be pretty unbearable weather-wise this time of year.

At least it's a dry heat.

Our household budget has been stretched to the extreme lately, what with sporadic income on my part, and huge bills...also on my part, I'm afraid, due to an author's ridiculous personal expenses for travel and promotion. So we've had to cut back on almost anything we could. In the summer, our air conditioning bills used to top $600 a month at the height of summer, but we can no longer afford to indulge ourselves with air on day and night. We switched to having a window air in the bedroom and in my home office, but even that will run too much.

Enter the library.

In the years following the beginning of the Great Recession, library funding got cut to the bone. Some had to close their doors for part of the week to make ends meet. Ours did. But now they seem to be on healthier fiscal footing (I know that this is in large part to the efforts of their Friends of the Library, that raises a rather hefty sum from their in-library bookstore [alas, this also means that if you donate books to your library, more than likely they won't end up on the shelves but in the library bookstore. It still helps your library, but if you want to help your local author, consider asking the library to order their book instead.]). My local library in Sun City is open every day and so I decided to avail myself of their hospitality...and their air conditioning.

Huntington Beach Library's atrium.
Now, I've been to tons of libraries, both for myself to get information I needed for my books, and to visit the library as a panelist or presenter as an author. I've seen some pretty spectacular libraries, from the Huntington Beach main library with its spiraling atrium and fountain, community theatre, cafe, and enviable gift shop, to the frankly amazing Cerritos Millenium Library with its opera house-like appearance, room with banks and banks of computers, and huge fish tank. Some libraries have cafes inside. Some have spectacular kid's spaces. Some, like Agoura Hill's library, have a relaxing craftsman-style designed interior complete with working fireplace. And some, like Corona's, has a money-making passport office right inside.
Cerritos Library computer banks.

Children's section, Cerritos Library.
These awe-inspiring library of libraries are among many that I haven't mentioned or haven't yet been to. They all offer books, of course, but some offer much more. But what they all have in common are their meeting spaces, working spaces, or restful spaces. And they are full of people! It's still quiet--as it should be--except perhaps immediately before and after storytime--but there are loads of people there. Youngsters, moms with strollers and toddlers, teenagers, young adults who wouldn't look out of place at the local Starbucks, seniors...and the occasional author who just wants to get in out of the heat.

I was surprised, after spending day after day there, like my nine to five job that I used to spend at home (and perhaps less efficiently since I had loads of distractions, especially of the furry kind), I discovered how very efficient and valuable and NEEDED are libraries. Not only does it supply a place out of the heat (or cold, or rain, depending on the time of year) but its computer banks also supply much-needed access to the internet for folks of all stripes. You can't apply for a job anymore without being able to log onto the internet, and some people either can't afford a home computer or can't afford the internet, or both. Shut down libraries
Agoura Hills Library
and you disenfranchise the poor more than they are already disenfranchised.

Mission Viejo Library
I am happy to report that my local library seems to be doing well. It's a very pleasant place to spend my afternoons, working on my manuscripts--or this blog post--and I urge you to support your locals by making donations and supporting local bonds in support of them.

Thank you, libraries, for being there when I needed you! 


Sheila Connolly said...

What a beautiful building! My hometown library dates to around 1900 (the gift of a successful grocer whose business was across the street--and is now the police station) and wants to be an extended sitting room, complete with fireplace. Not quite as useful in this day and age.

A friend just sent her daughter off to college in Massachusetts. The daughter called on the first night to whine that her room was too hot--no A/C. I seem to recall surviving college without it. Retrofitting old dorms with A/C might double tuition.

KY Warrior Librarian said...

We have a new library on the horizon for us...hopefully sometime within the next few years. Don't know if we will be able to be as glamorous as the places you featured on your blog, but like the Army we strive to be all that we can be for our patrons and our community.

Jeri Westerson said...

Libraries don't have to be palaces like some of the examples I cite, Warrior. They only have to be places for books to live and for people to have access to them. I've seen some pretty humble libraries, too. Some in mobile homes and some little better than sheds. Doesn't matter. They are like Dr. Who's Tardis: they are bigger on the inside than the outside.

Deb Hardcastle said...

Our library here in Norman, OK recently started a program where through their online catalog, patrons can order books through Amazon. The library's online services earns a small percentage, plus authors get their cut, too. I think this is a grand idea, don't you?
Here it is on our main library page:

Sandra Parshall said...

Jeri, I agree with you about the value of libraries -- but I find it sad (and infuriating) that you poured so much into promoting your books and received so little publisher support. You're a fine writer, and you deserve better.

Julia Buckley said...

Awesome library!! Thanks for sharing.