I know that today’s election day – Tuesday, March 8th is somewhat an anticlimactic one with all sorts of odd and end measures and council people to vote in. However, I do want to take a moment and champion a humble cause ‘Measure L’: The Los Angeles Reassignment of Funds for the Library System that has advocates as wide ranging as acclaimed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury to LA Police Chief, Charlie Beck. To get the quick and dirty on why ‘Yes on L’ here are the summary and facts – the main one being that this measure will not require raising new tax dollars.
For me libraries have always held a special place in my heart. So here are my personal reasons for supporting libraries….
1. KIDS STILL NEED A PLACE TO HANG OUT AFTER SCHOOL: Where else can young, outsider immigrant Asian kids hang out without getting beat up? Believe me, it was my safe haven as a kid and I’m sure little has changed. ‘Measure L’ will help restore libraries from the measly 5-day a week service to 6, and hopefully back to 7…
2. LIBRARIES DO MORE THAN LOAN BOOKS, BUT SUPPORT WHOLE COMMUNITIES: Particularly at libraries as the Los Angeles Chinatown branch, the library doubles as a community center where often lower income families and immigrants receive assistance with job search, citizenship applications, computer and language skills. I teach a Cantonese computer class at the Chinatown branch and am struck by how many students I get both young and old who struggle with basic word processing, internet search, and email.
3. BOOKS ARE STILL RELEVANT…ESPECIALLY FREE BOOKS, IF NOT MORE SO THAN EVER: Despite naysayers who feel that books in print and libraries are as antiquated as mix tapes and that kids are playing videogames over reading words on paper, 18 million books were borrowed and online library resources were used 155 million times (per 2008-2009). At the end of the day, not everyone has access to a Kindle or a laptop. And while I have both, those devices will not give me access to amazing full-size photographic monographs by Richard Avedon, the latest New York Times best seller, or Rosetta Stone language cds for free. In life, few good things will stay free…and untainted by advertisers and marketers trying to data mine your personal info. As Internet pay-walls will eventually go up for struggling content providers and publications (eg: The New York Times) who can’t or won’t give their content away for free, I suspect libraries will only become more relevant for those who rely on free and open access to good information that is well-researched and well-written (especially from key primary and secondary sources – which does not mean Wikipedia).
4. LIBRARIES MAY BE THE LAST PLACE WHERE YOU CAN HANDLE THE MERCHANDISE BEFORE BUYING: With brick and mortar bookstores dying (note recent fire sales of all Borders books stores and I imagine Barnes and Nobles is not far off), there are few places where you can actually physically browse books. Currently, there are limits to which parts of books you’re able to browse online (eg: on Amazon, there are only chapter headings and a preselected excerpt). So, if you’re a struggling student trying to decide between which authoritative $50+ study manual you want to buy for the LSATs or a person starting a business who is overwhelmed by the number of ‘How To Books’ on the market, you are at the mercy of online reviews to help you make your decision. So short of bookstores, libraries are the only place where you can effectively skim through a book on your own terms before you commit to buying it. Also, I’m one of those people who likes libraries for their innocuous labeling of genres as I’m far too self-conscious to hang out in the section of the bookstore emblazoned with the SELF HELP sign. Instead, I’d rather scope around in anonymity amongst Dewey Decimal numbers to sneak a peak at ‘FIND YOUR HIGHER SELF WHILE VEGGING OUT’ like I’m in some porn shop.
5. LAST PLACE IN TOWN WHERE THE CONE OF SILENCE IS RESPECTED: Where else can you find a place where you can hear yourself think? Especially in a city like Los Angeles where noise is the norm from traffic to other people’s cell phone conversations while buying milk at Trader Joe’s, it’s a wonderful almost spiritual experience to be able to exist with other citizens in a state of communal silence, concentration, contemplation, or day dreaming…