The true sign of a civilized society is its investment in the arts and education. Once it has the ability and desire to support these pursuits, it has truly arrived at a level of sophistication that forever separates it from the barbarous dregs.
Unfortunately in these troubling times more and more municipalities are suffering from financial crises that are unprecedented. Naturally, their first instinct is to cut back on cultural aspects of their budget. These things aren’t really “necessary”, right? The most vulnerable point on any city’s lists of departments is the place where culture meets education: its public libraries.
Sure enough, the city of Jacksonville, Florida has announced that it plans to close 6 of its library branches, including the one that I frequent, the University Park Branch. Do I take this personally? Of course I do. Not a week goes by when I’m not buried in the stacks of this great library. I actually moved to this area of town because I knew the library was less than a mile away. But I protest this closure not only for myself, but for my community.
On any given day, especially since they cut back the hours, there’s a long line of people waiting for the doors to open. This library is a place where parents bring their children to reinforce the importance of literacy, where seniors come to get assistance with their taxes, where families check out videos for family night, where students come to do research, where kids can seek homework assistance, where a wide variety of people come to take classes–everything from cooking to anime, where children come for free summer lunches, and where job seekers with no internet access at home come to search for employment. It is also a source of free entertainment at a time when the family budget is under even more strain than the public one is.
Libraries also preserve our history, create special collections based on the needs of their specific communities, act as a meeting place where we can discuss our issues and concerns, are often the places where we vote and get married, are a source of different points of view, are an opportunity for expanding one’s education for those who cannot afford college, and dare I say it? A quiet, air conditioned refuge in an otherwise hot and hectic world.
I believe that libraries are the canaries in the coal mine. Their death presages the death of true civilization.
Jacksonville is a city with a population of about 828,000 and is in the bottom third of the country when it comes to literacy. That literacy rate has been on the decline for years. These libraries are not a luxury. They’re a necessity.
Join me in protesting the death of Jacksonville’s libraries! Contact Mayor Brown at Mayorbrown@coj.net. Also visit http://savejaxlibraries.com/ to see what else you can do.