Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Healthy libraries = educated populace, strong communities, creative minds

Louisiana Book Festival 2014
             There’s lots of depressing news lately regarding the Louisiana budget and it’s likely that higher education is going to take a significant hit because of the shortfall.
            But have you heard that libraries have been hit in the past few years and will continue to be subjected to budget cuts in the near future, despite the fact that they are now operating on budgets that leave nothing left to cut?
            Here are some things to be very concerned about:
            The state will stop helping local libraries pay for internet services and cut the State Library of Louisiana so it will only be open two days a week, laying off up to seven staff members. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s office said about 330 libraries will have to find other funds to pay for internet access due to cuts.
            “I am concerned that some libraries won't have the financial wherewithal to pay for internet for the rest of the fiscal year. It is not something they have built into their budgets because we have been providing it," Dardenne said in a Feb. 7 article in The Times-Picayune.
             I have spoken with several librarians in the state, including at the university level and within the State Library, who have stated they have not purchased new books in years. At LSU-Eunice, the library is closed on weekends so students are not able to access the library during that time.
LSU-E Library
            Think no one uses the library anymore? Try visiting your local library on a Sunday and see the throngs of people filling out job applications and performing work-related tasks on the library’s computers (public libraries are the number one point of online access for the nearly 39 percent of people in Louisiana without internet connections at home). How about all those amazing free programs you can bring your children to — spring break is coming up? Ever check out the databases online? How about tracing your family tree without having to purchase a subscription to Ancestry.com?
            Libraries are the key to an educated populace. They also build communities.
            Need more convincing? Here’s some statistics from the Louisiana Library Association:
LSU-E Library
             85,000 children hone their reading skills each summer by participating in the Summer Reading Program.
            Almost half a million books have been loaned among Louisiana public libraries since 2002; these are materials not available in local libraries.
            20,000 school children voted for their favorite book in the 2008 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Program.
            Libraries are centers for communication, information and normalcy in the aftermath of natural disasters and during times of economic crisis. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, libraries were swamped with people needing computers to fill out government and insurance forms, find new places to live and get information on schools, healthcare, etc.
            Almost 3,000,000 searches will be performed this year in vetted, high-quality informational and educational databases provided by the State Library in cooperation with local public libraries.
            14,500,000 visitors enter Louisiana public libraries annually.
            Libraries provide support for small businesses and economic development.
            And let me add that every fall the Louisiana State Library hosts the Louisiana Book Festival, a free event featuring dozens of authors, publishers and book-related events. Where would we writers be without the support of our libraries?
            This past Friday I was invited to speak at the LSU-E Arnold LeDoux Library about my recent book, “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History.” Librarian Gerald Patout hosts author events every month and this time he brought in members of the Eunice Community Garden and solicited gift certificates from Doug Nursery in Forest Hill. The event garnered an article on the garden in the Eunice Today newspaper.
            Libraries are more than a place to find a book — and yes, people are still reading books. They are a community.
            I’ll leave you with a happy thought. Notice the book-art photos? Those were created by art students at LSU-E as decorations for the Arnold LeDoux Library.
            Do you agree that libraries need to stay funded? Please tell your legislators by clicking here.

Lousiiana Book Festival 2014