I found a link on Moonrat's blog that floored me. As of October 2, 2009, the Philadelphia Public Library system is closing its doors. Read the article here. There is also a great discussion in the comments section of Moonrat's blog.
Philadelphia is the city where the fundamental belief of our nation was given words and life. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal." The irony of losing libraries in Philadelphia is tragic.
In my classroom, I indoctrinate students with another fundamental belief. "Knowledge is Power." People with accurate information are the people with power. Libraries have always been one of the great equalizers in providing access to information. Several of the commenters on Moonrat's blog talked about libraries being like livery stables...in the digital age they are obsolete. This comparison is just wrong.
Libraries have changed radically since I was in high school. They have adapted to the electronic age, but their fundamental mission remains the same. Libraries provide books and information FREE to anyone in the community. I have surprisingly large chunks of students who do not have computers in their homes or who do not have Internet access. This seems outrageous to many of us...almost akin to not having indoor plumbing or electricity...but the reality is there. When times get tight, and they are, families choose to keep the indoor plumbing and the electricity over the Internet service.
These families rely on the public library. I know our school library spends more of its budget on keeping electronic database subscriptions up to date than it does on books. My guess is our small town public library does the same. Any night of the week, you will find all of the computers in the public library occupied. Saying libraries are obsolete in the digital age is ignorance.
Library programming is integral to many communities as well. Our library has fun activities all summer long for children and teens centered around literacy. These programs morph during the school year to support school activities. The library has classes for adults to help them navigate the digital age. Information is useless if people don't know how to access it.
Then there are the books. Where else can you read to your heart's content without paying a dime for the privilege? I have always been an avid reader, so libraries have always seemed like treasure houses to me. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the weekly trips we made to the public library. My mother waited patiently while I spent hours in the stacks. I would come home with a carefully selected stack of books, and every week it felt like Christmas.
Where will the children of Philadelphia go for books?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Without equal access to information, those are just pretty words.