in collaboration with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Fund and use public libraries

File under: libraries, education, financial literacy, early childhood literacy, health literacy, online access to services, government budgets, government

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From: Stephen L., Washington, DC

One of the greatest resources available to people is the public library. More people need to take full advantage of what libraries have to offer. People seeking to learn more about saving and investing, starting a small business, obtaining a job, or financing job training or higher education can find a wealth of resources at the public library. Plus, they can use the library to improve their diet and nutrition, and exercise habits.

Parents can use the resources of public libraries to acquaint their toddlers with books and the English language. As the children who have been read to grow older, parents can use libraries to make sure that their children continue to read outside of school assignments. Young adults who are strong readers and computer literate will have what it takes to succeed in a changing economy that places a premium on those skills.

When developing budgets, too few federal and state legislators recognize that, as more government and even non-profit services move online, the library is the point of access that links the less affluent (those who don't have Internet access at home or work) with those services.

Admittedly, much of what it will take to curb poverty will depend upon macroeconomic policies, including ones impacting trade, research and investment, and which promote stronger families. But public libraries are an important, undervalued institution. They are available to anyone who cares to take advantage of them. It appears likely that, after this fall's election, there could very well be many cuts in funding to federal and state government programs. Legislators and congressional representatives need to recognize just how important public libraries are as they develop their budgets next year in what appears to be an era of fiscal retrenchment.

As a former policy analyst at a conservative think tank, I certainly know that entitlements represent the biggest challenge to the federal government's fiscal problems. It's all too easy for legislators to avoid tackling the significant problem of exploding entitlement costs while cutting discretionary budget items -- including libraries -- just so they can claim they are getting tough with the budget. Yet, too often, money still gets spent on unnecessary services, while an essential service such as the public library gets the short end of the stick.

In Pennsylvania, legislators gave millions of dollars to a library to house the papers of retiring U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a function that could be performed by the Library of Congress, while forcing cutbacks in public library budgets.

Here's what a ">story posted on said about the budget cuts faced by the Mt. Pleasant Public Library in Pennsylvania:

"The current state budget cut library funding 9.1 percent," Mt. Pleasant Library director Jamie Falo said. "We were hoping that we wouldn't get hit hard again this year, since we took such a large cut last year at over 20 percent."

Who really needs the money? If we were really living in a society that offer opportunity to people (as ours claims to do), then public libraries would receive strong funding.

As a former public librarian, I know just how important the resources of a public library can be to people who are living on the margins of society, provided that they take full advantage of what it has to offer. I've seen countless people without jobs use the library to prepare their resumes and try to find jobs online. I've seen mothers who are homeless bring their young children to the public library to obtain books they could read to them. I've seen middle-aged people who are not affluent start to learn to use computers because they need such knowledge to survive in a tough employment market that increasingly demands job applications be submitted online.

But being able to take advantage of the public library requires that their value is recognized by elected officials.


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