Long Beach Public Library Foundation

Press Telegram: Truth is, America must support libraries more than ever

This weekend the Press Telegram and associated news outlets from the San Gabriel Valley to Pasadena shared our Executive Director, Kate Azar’s column on the importance of libraries in today’s America. You can read the article below, or click through to the Press Telegram.

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The Long Beach City Council recently recognized April as National Library Month. This recognition comes at an important time, just a few weeks after President Trump released his proposal for the federal budget, which included cutting all funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

If this legislation is passed by Congress, it would severely impact the health of our libraries, institutions that are critical to the educational and economic advancement of our community.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides essential financial support for libraries across our country. In fact, the Long Beach Public Library was just recognized as a finalist for the IMLS National Medal Award because of the remarkable work of our librarians.

Our talented library staff does so much with limited funding. Our library’s annual materials budget is less than a third of what it should be for a population the size of Long Beach. So every dollar helps. This is why, 20 years ago, the Long Beach Public Library Foundation was founded, to raise much-needed funds to enhance the Long Beach Public Library and encourage literacy and education for all members of the Long Beach community.

There is a lot of debate as to whether libraries are still relevant in the digital age. But in an era of fake news, alternative facts and economic inequality, access to free and accurate information is more important than ever.

Whatever your politics, freedom of information is an American value. Not every country shares this value. Journalists are imprisoned in Iran, the Chinese government limits Internet access, and we see unbelievable control and manipulation of information in North Korea.

It’s easy to take for granted that many of us enjoy easy access to information with the touch of our smartphones. But not everyone, even in our own community, enjoys this privilege.

Over half the population of California holds a library card. Last year alone, Long Beach libraries welcomed more than 1.2 million patrons, equaling 5,400 daily visits. These patrons rely on our libraries for reference materials, computers, Wi-Fi and other resources to apply for jobs, complete homework assignments and earn marketable skills and knowledge. These services have a direct impact on local unemployment, dropout rates and crime rates.

Public libraries put knowledge directly into the hands of underserved communities. Children, families, veterans, the disabled and seniors all rely on our libraries.

Our libraries are essential. They need your support.

Like Andrew Carnegie, who himself benefited from a public library and devoted a substantial part of his fortune to building the American public library system, we too must support this important institution.

So even if it has been some time since you have visited your local branch libraries we ask that you invest in them. Write to your congressional representatives and ask them to preserve funding for the IMLS. Make a personal donation to the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, and visit your local branch library.

Investing in our libraries is an investment in our community, in our country and in our future.

Kate Azar is executive director of the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, a nonprofit that works to enhance the Long Beach Public Library and encourage literacy.