Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Last week there was a front page article in the Sun Sentinel about the Palm Beach County Library System: Palm Beach County libraries face skyrocketing costs to overhaul facilities.

The article was basically chastising the library for failing to build new libraries in a more timely manner and for the skyrocketing prices that have completely blown the budget. Buried in the middle of the article was a brief allusion to the hurricanes that have decimated the building industry.

There was also a couple of quotes from two of the county commissioners, one of whom felt the county needed to suck it up and somehow find the money to finish building the libraries. But the other commissioner intimated that libraries were for old people and that everyone else has Internet, so why do we need more and better libraries.

As a lifelong library lover, I took great exception to her remarks. I waited several days to respond as I needed time to avoid just responding in anger. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Sun Sentinel and they wrote back and asked me to condense. I did the best I could in the very limited space I was allotted, and they trimmed a bit more. Here is the end result:

County's libraries a priceless resource for the asking

Malcolm Forbes once said, "The richest person in the world -- in fact all the riches in the world -- couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library." What this article failed to mention was all the great loot that is available for Palm Beach County residents at their library. And it is appalling that a county commissioner could be so unaware of all that the library offers the community.

Libraries are not the refuge of the homeless and aged, but are vibrant, bustling community centers, offering services that many people simply aren't aware of: wireless access, computer classes, kids' storytimes, book discussion groups and one-on-one tutoring for adults who don't know how to read. All for free.

The Internet is a mess. Anyone can post anything they want, and they do so regularly. But there are hundreds of databases that have the most accurate, up-to-date information that you simply cannot access for free on the Internet -- databases like Ancestry.com, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times archives, Consumer Reports, and practice exams for standardized tests like the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and the Scholastic Achievement Test, all of which can be accessed by library card holders. For free.

Yes, there have been budget issues and building issues, but there has also been a huge real estate boom with skyrocketing prices and a scarcity of building supplies. The boom has busted, but prices haven't come down, at least not yet. You cannot fault the county for [hurricanes] Jeanne, Frances and Wilma and the aftermath of those storms. But you can continue to support your local library, and I hope County Commissioner Mary McCarty rethinks her comments and tries to help the county deal with the money crunch in a more productive way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see how people view library services around the world...I've recently been lucky enough to sign people up to our local library. I've been the person they approach with a great big smile on their face, saying I'm new in town, I would like to join etc. The next comment is wow this library is great. If it's not flat strap busy I give people a tour of the library instead of a brochure.

I live in a really small country town, with industries based around dairy farming, with many coffee addicts roaming the street for quirky cafes,and we also have protected rainforest with beaches 30 minutes away. So basically heaven. Australian style.

While we don't have wireless access, we do have the internet, and access to laptops for uni students, with a bookable quiet space...On a community basis some local guys have set up free wireless access where you can sit in the main street with your laptop and still connect.

The library has a diverse collection for all ages, and activities that encourage literacy and connecting with other people of all ages. Anyway the library is a real hub for the community.

I'm a very new library assistant that got my foot in the door through my continual research habits and devouring of books.I'm still learning just how extensive the service is. I thought as a patron I was a heavy user of the library. On a book count, yes.However I am starting to wonder how well the message is broadcast concerning the richness of services offered. Some of the problem I think is just how busy everyone is with running the core activities.Also people have such busy lives many patrons tend to borrow ninja style. They're so quick it's like they were never there.

Good on you for illuminating people on what your service has to offer and placing building costs into context.


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