Library system in need of public support

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, May 16, 2012

by Susan Hudgins

Our Blackwater Regional Library is in financial trouble.

Its website states that funding from Southampton and Isle of Wight counties may be reduced in this year’s budget drastically enough to affect the number of staff, the operating hours of the library and the money available to buy equipment and materials.

“Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission.” —Toni Morrison

Listen: We can’t not fund the public library. It is one of the last great bastions of community and free access. It is one of the “great good places” in our society, a “Third Place,” as author Ray Brandenburg defines them; gathering places that are central to local democracy and community vitality.

Third Places, according to Mr. Brandenburg, “promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.”

As if that were not enough reason to keep our libraries fully funded and thriving, it is vitally important that we keep these storehouses of knowledge, of free and equal access to information, of public service, sufficiently funded.

Literally thousands of people use our regional library each and every week. The programs offered for children entertain and help prepare them for school.

Teenagers and young adults — especially those who cannot afford their own computers or to pay for required reading materials — use the library as a place for study, for community and for volunteering as pages and program assistants, helping to prepare them for careers and the work world and allowing them an opportunity to make a real contribution in their communities.

Adults appreciate the wide range of books and e-books, movies and access to computers.

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the free public library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” —Andrew Carnegie

In March, more than 34,000 people visited the Blackwater Regional Library’s various branches. More than 34,000 people! That is nearly equal to the population of the region!

More than 39,000 items were checked out during the same four-week period; that’s nearly 10,000 items a week being borrowed by interested, entertained, curious, education-seeking citizens like you and me. Far out!

Where else do you get that kind of return on investment? We take tax dollars, and build and stock a public library system that is open and free to every single citizen of every age, and the statistics show that basically every man, woman and child living in our community supports and uses that system.

President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation late in 1941 supporting libraries as “essential to the functioning of a democratic society” and “the great tools of scholarship, the great repositories of culture, and the great symbols of the freedom of the mind.”

And that is all in good times!

During tough economic times, like right now, people are shown to use public libraries even more often. Not only do libraries provide free or inexpensive entertainment to all members of the family (story hours, family movies, author visits, games, etc.); they provide access to computers for job searches and resume writing, job search clubs, recruitment activities, networking opportunities and workshops and seminars on anything from job skills to foreclosures. People need that access.

We cannot look at the statistics and not know that our public library is one of the best uses of public funds. It is indeed a “great good place.”

“I won’t feign ignorance about governments having to make hard decisions in dispersing public funds; but neither should taxpayers feign surprise when, after all the topsoil has been hauled away, a tree refuses to grow.” —Lorraine Sommerfeld

Contact the Isle of Wight and Southampton County Board of Supervisors to pressure them to support our public library system. It makes no difference if you are a resident of one of these counties or of Franklin — the public library system benefits us all.

If you can, plan to attend the Southampton County Board of Supervisors meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 21, at Southampton High School.

SUSAN HUDGINS lives in Franklin and is known to frequent libraries wherever she goes. She can be reached at