|Wikipedia Commons - Christopher Ziemnowicz|
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Libraries need friends. Not simply those who joyfully and with out thought use its resources but the friends with pockets deep enough to provide for the ongoing existence and expansion of library services. In the late 20th century some of those friends were Bill and Melinda gates. At the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, it was steel mogul Andrew Carnegie.
Thousands of communities applied for and received funds from Carnegie's foundation to establish libraries. "Few towns that requested a grant and agreed to his terms were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie " (Wikipedia). The communities had to meet certain criteria though discovered through a set of questions. Communities had to demonstrate the need for a public library;
provide the building site;annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library's construction to support its operation; and, promise to provide free service to all.
Today, there are a dwindling number of them remaining and fewer still in operation as community libraries.
A surprising number of these palaces to learning were torn down - some in the 1930's and 1950's- long before urban renewal scarred the landscape of so many cities. Many communities still go begging for needed support, improvements, and development in the face of rising costs for print and nonbook resources. Library booksales are a crucial resource maker in far too many communities.
What I have learned from libraries is they need friends with deep pockets - but more importantly - a vision and appreication of the impact learning and libraries can make in a community. In a life. What I have learned is that so often we cut the budget, make learning go begging and forget the importance of literacy in our towns.
Just goes to show we can destroy - or ignore - with greater ease than we can build.
Thanks Mr. Carnegie, Mr. Gates and all the others who supported the library in their communities. A new century dawns, I wonder who the new supporters of learning, reading, literacy, and the imagination will be?