This is not because I think libraries have cooties or anything. Quite the contrary, I like libraries a lot. The smell of the books and the cozy, quiet warmth are very appealing. Had I more time to spare or if I was more of a leisure reader I’d probably use the library a lot.
Or if I had to give up my at-home Internet or had to give up my cable TV I’d use the library a lot more, and that’s precisely why they exist. Libraries were invented with less technical needs in mind but the principle was the same: equal access to information regardless of social class or wealth. This is why a good-sized crowd showed up at the downtown Reno library this week to protest possible closure of two branches of the Washoe County Library System. As with all levels of government, the library system is facing big budget shortfalls and the folks in charge have to decide where to cut. At issue in this case was the possibility of closing the Sierra View and downtown Reno library locations. Both are fairly busy and to shut down either would force patrons to trek to another branch.
After much passionate pleading from members of the audience, the trustees voted to keep both branches open but reduce hours at all branches to cut down on expenses. This was no doubt a difficult decision and it is impossible to tell if it was the right one. For patrons who can make it to the library during the reduced hours, there will be no difference. For those who rely on the evening hours (or Saturdays or whatever hours are ultimately cut), the branch might as well be closed.
Some of the pleas centered around how the libraries help folks who have lost their jobs and how the free computer access helps them look for jobs, print their resumes or apply for work online. For that reason alone libraries are especially important now. The books and knowledge contained within them are certainly vital to a free democracy, but in this age of e-job hunting closing the libraries would only worsen the spiral of economic depression in which we currently find ourselves. Picturing myself in the ranks of the unemployed, my first step would be to eliminate all expendable bills. At the top of the list would be Internet — but that plan relies on my ability to get Web access at the library so I could find a new job. Next I’d start selling my belongings to pay my bills, including all my DVDs. So, after I used the free Internet at the library I’d go pick up a book to entertain myself while I wait for a call back. I’d have plenty of time to read “War and Peace.”
I applaud the library trustees for their efforts to keep all the branches open. Unfortunately, it sounds like they might be delaying the inevitable. The budget ax will fall eventually. I have often said the federal government could solve the health care problem with the money spent on the Middle East wars. You think the county is waging any unnecessary wars?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a new library card.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.