Friday, April 16, 2010

National Library Week

On Wednesday evening, I went to the Elmora branch library in Elizabeth NJ to return some books, grab a few more & check them out. It was after 8, library closes at 9. Open late two nights. It's a small building, too small for the community it serves. There's enough property for a modest addition, but that's not going to happen. If they're all working, there's 10 computers for internet & one for catalogue searches. All were being used. A father with two children was returning about 20 books & checking out some. The reshelve carts were overloaded. The new fiction books were crowding out the new nonfiction on the 14 day shelves.

I was having a lot of problems logging in to my account from home, & even using the search function when I wasn't logged in. I was sure the problem was with the library's system. Exasperated, I took the problem to my Councilman, Joe Keenan, who used to be Library Director & is a book-lover with surprising tastes in literature. I contacted him via Facebook. He listened & he acted on it. The library brought in a computer person & something changed for the better. The current Director even wanted to talk to me personally, which wasn't necessary.

This is a big city. Lots of library patrons must have been having the same problem. Joe experienced it for himself. Apparently, I was the only, or one of the few, patrons who bothered complaining. I wanted at least to have the library admit there was a problem. Joe guaranteed himself a vote for re-election here. He also has neighborhood meetings in the Elmora branch all-purpose room. They draw capacity audiences & the mayor shows up at most of them, or sends some other important city hall person. The police chief was there one night. The mayor resides in Joe's ward.

The public library is one city service where you probably get your tax dollar's worth & there isn't a lot of waste. Libraries form consortiums & cooperatives to share the cost of services. They get grants for music performances. Even small cutbacks to library funding can have serious consequences. Elizabeth has no money to spare. As it is, the system here is stretched to the limit. There are additional services I'd like to see that I don't suggest, like opening Elmora for several hours on Sunday afternoon to serve the large Orthodox Jewish community that can't use the library on Saturdays, as Millburn library does.

I think state cutbacks to library funding can be prevented, with some vocal & unified opposition. Library support transcends partisan politics. My most conservative acquaintance opposes library funding cutbacks. When urban, suburban, rural, local, county, & college libraries cooperate to share services & economize, to expand internet access, makes no sense to undermine their efforts & throw them back entirely on their own resources. It's a penny-wise & pound-foolish.

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