There is no frigate like a book

And no harbor like a library ,where those who love books but can’t afford their own complete collections, or those who need a computer, or kids who need a safe place to read after school, or moms with toddlers who want their babies to learn to read, can all come together and share in a great community resource.

The economic collapse has sent millions more Americans to their public libraries than used them in the past–25.4 million in 2009 compared to 20.3 million in 2006.  These are people who went to the library at least 20 times a year,not the ones who go in once or twice.  An additional 51 million Americans used their public libraries by remote computer–so one in four of all our citizens, including newborns and those in nursing homes, are using their public libraries.

The Chicago public library has already made deep budget cuts in the last three years: there’s been a hiring and promotion freeze, so that many branches are understaffed.  Hours have been cut.  Perhaps most worrying of all, acquisitions have been frozen.  No new books.  For the indefinite future.  If the economy recovers, you can build up new staff relatively quickly, but you can’t go back in time to acquire books that will have gone out of print.

I use three libraries in Chicago–the University of Chicago library, which is a ten-minute walk from my front door, the Newberry, which is a research and scholarly library, and the Chicago Public Library. When I chaired a panel this past September at the Bouchercon, the CPL was the only one of those three libraries that had books by some of the authors I was introducing.  When I wrote an introduction to a special edition of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, the CPL was the only library that had all the biographies I needed to consult.  The Vivian Harsh collection is second to none in its coverage of African-American history and notable African-Americans in the arts and I have used it far more often than the university library’s special collections.

Please, Chicagoans: the future of our library is in the balance.  The next budget hearing is November 2. Please call your alderman and urge him or her to save the library budget.  It could be your kid who needs that place for a research project, it could be the book you want the library isn’t buying, it could be your job search you can’t conduct because the library is shut, or isn’t upgrading its computers.

Libraries in every jurisdiction in this country and in the UK are under similar threat.  If you live outside Chicago, the American Library Association can help you find out your library’s status, and how to take action to protect it.

  • the Bag Lady

    I am ashamed to admit that I have not darkened the door of the library in the closest city since I moved to the ranch some 17 years ago. On the other hand, my house kinda resembles a library…. there are bookshelves in every room except the bathroom and the laundry room….. and books are stacked two and three deep on most of the shelves. (*note to self – check library status!)

  • Sara Paretsky

    Bag Lady–think of Roger Duvoisin’s “Petunia:” “he who owns books and loves them is wise.” You’re one of the wisest people I know; get some shelves up in the bathroom

  • Hendra

    I have a poster hanging in my office that reads: Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.  In my community, dozens of libraries have been closed or “consolidated.”  The main branch in downtown has closed an entire floor, discarded hundreds of books…and the voices clamoring to be heard protesting these measures are dismissed as not understanding the ecomonic environment.  It’s a tragedy.

  • Anonymous

    I love this Sara Paretsky for a number of reasons one being that she loves Chicago-the REAL CHICAGO. Tourists come from all over the world to see our Monets, Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile, but Ms. Paretsky loves the South Side, the melting pot of working class immigrants, the grit and the guts of Chicago. And she loves the Chicago Public Library. Call your alderman today and insist that the City of Chicago fully fund the library!

  • For the time strapped, many Chicago aldermen have a Twitter presence. I just sent a tweet to my alderman about this issue. 

  • Sara, thank you…from a librarian in Chicago.

  • sara paretsky

    Thanks for the tweet suggestion and for helping spread the message

  • Nancy Rawson

    Thanks for your support, Sara. As a librarian and former Sisters in Crime member, I appreciate the kind and true words. Nancy Rawson

  • Zirafra

    Our local libraries seem to be busier that ever.  Many people have less money to spend on books so the library is an important part of a community.  They provide reading programs for little kids, book clubs for adults, a sense of community. 

    It is a little sad to me that there seems to be more activity in the computer area in the library than the stacks.  Growing up I remember shelves and shelves packed with books.  Now the amount of actual books  available seems to have decreased. We have too empty or partially filled shelved in our library.  While going to college I worked at the university library. Roaming through the stacks and discovering wonderful treasures to read was a great way to spend some time.  It’s sad to think that those times have gone away.

    Most libraries have a “Friend of the ….Library”.  The fundraising work from the FOL groups helps to provide additional resources to the library.  It’s also a great way for people to get books for incredibly low cost and help support the activities of libraries.

    Thank you Sara for being such a strong and passionate advocate for libraries.

  • genny from jersey

    I just realized that I signed using a different name. I’m really “genny from jersey’.  Don’t know why I did that.

  • What’s the point of Information when discovery across multiple generations is being violently denied? 

  • A. Joyce

    I felt a little twinge on reading this, and went and emailed my city council.  They’re not slashing the budget for the library any more in 2012, but the library has already lost $10 million in the last few years. I think it’s ridiculous that our library employees have to take two week “furloughs” in the summer because we can’t afford to pay them.

    I live on in an income of less than $12,000 a year, but every couple of years I scratch together enough for a “Friends of the Library” annual membership fee.

  • A. Joyce

    The comment from this commenter made me think “What’s the point of Information when discovery across multiple generations is being violently denied?”  I’m not sure what the poster is referring to, but I wanted to say this.  I use ebooks a lot.  I have autoimmune arthritis, and they’re convenient and don’t have limited hours the way my in-person branches do.  Recently I was looking for books on feminism.  My progressive local library (Seattle) had exactly four e-titles linked to the word “feminism” and one of those titles was “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism”.  Another of the two was “Death of a Washington Madame.”  However, the Seattle Public Library has over 18,000 nonfiction titles and 30,000 titles.  Glarg.  Oh well.  I got a little more help from Project Gutenberg on the topic.


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