Column: Supporting Our Local Public Libraries

Astronomer Carl Sagan once said: “The health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture, and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.”  I think that notion is exactly right.  Our public libraries provide so much to our communities and families that they are truly indispensable and worthy of our support.

A number of years ago, when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, our local schools faced budget cuts, which led to layoffs in the schools, including my daughter’s school librarian.  To keep the school library open, parents – myself included – volunteered at the school library.  While we did our best, and our volunteering served as a bridge in the interim, the library experience at my daughter’s school surely was not the same until a librarian was hired once again.  It was this experience that first prompted me to take a greater interest in municipal governance, which eventually led to me running for the Legislature.  It also fostered in me an even deeper appreciation of our libraries and our library staff!

April is the month in which we recognize National Library Week – this year from April 10-16 – and consider what invaluable resources our public libraries are for our families and our communities.  During this week, I was pleased to meet with the Directors of the public libraries of the six communities of the 5th Middlesex district to discuss the challenges facing our communities’ libraries, including funding and capital needs so that these institutions can continue to provide the multitude of services that they do.

In 2014 alone, the public libraries of the six communities of the 5th Middlesex district serviced nearly 1.5 million visitors and were home to over 1 million individual holdings from books to music albums to movies and so on.  As technological advancements develop, our libraries keep pace, expanding collections into areas like eBook collections and digitally streaming audio and video.  Further, due to lending between library networks across the state, library patrons have access to much of the 35.5 million books, 13.2 million videos, 4.4 million audio recordings, and 2 million eBooks in lending circulation statewide.

As meaningful as that most well-known service of our libraries is – lending materials like books, movies, and music – our public libraries also provide many more critically important services.  As the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners notes, “almost all of the 370 public libraries in Massachusetts have public computers with Internet access.  Over 250 public libraries and 50 branches offer WiFi Internet access.”  For households without Internet access, their nearest library is a vital utility, particularly for unemployed and underemployed individuals who use their library’s Internet access for job-hunting.  The 5th Middlesex district’s six community libraries log over 4,000 users a week of the libraries’ public Internet computers.

Our public libraries are also the sites for classes, community organization meetings, and family and youth events.  A cursory review of our public libraries’ online calendars show a wide variety of events including: a wine tasting benefit at the Malden Public Library, toddler sing-alongs at the Melrose Public Library, organic gardening classes at the Reading Public Library, youth story times at the Stoneham Public Library, support group meetings at the Beebe Memorial Library in Wakefield, and robot-building classes at the Winchester Public Library, as well as so much more.  I urge you to look at your library’s event calendar and reflect on how integral it is to our community’s social fabric and to our children’s ability to broaden their horizons.

Library funding represents just seven-ten-thousandths (.0007) of the state budget.  As we prepare the Fiscal Year 2017 budget for the Commonwealth, I will continue advocating for resources for our communities’ public libraries so that they may continue to serve as central institutions for our cities and towns.