Saturday, May 8, 2010

Save the Library

YOUR MISSION: To Save the Los Angeles Libraries
DEADLINE: May 17th, 2010

Should you accept this mission, you have eight days to convince the rulers of Los Angeles, including Mayor Villaraigosa, not to cut funding to the Los Angeles Public Library System. 
Good Luck and may the force be with you.

 I thought it was a joke. I arrived at my neighborhood library yesterday, as I do multiple times a week, and saw the sign: "SAVE THE LIBRARY". I glanced around, just checking that this wasn't some elaborate plot my brain was cooking up as a result of my often-noted library obsession or my addiction to reading.  Nope - it was real.  My library is in trouble, and I am suited up for battle. 

After convincing the woman in charge of the petitions that I was in fact older than 16 and am a California resident, she filled me in on the problem.  There are proposed budget cuts across the board for the City of Los Angeles, and the top service being cut is the library system, which would result in fewer operating hours, fewer library branches, fewer books, fewer staff and fewer programs for children. 

This is unacceptable. Don't the public officials know how priceless the library is? Where else are walls stuffed with facts, stories and fantasies designed to give us an escape, teach us the ways of the world, transport us to far away lands, and help us to become our best selves.  Libraries are my sanctuary.  Being a book addict, I am too far-gone to support my habit. Would I have to actually purchase the books to allow me to read my book a night, I would be living on the sidewalk, wearing clothing fashioned out of title pages, and munching away on the table of contents. 

I go to the library not just for the allure of new novels and fascinating memoirs; I go to find DVDs to fill my evenings and informational texts about the world of publishing, the search for spirituality, the trials of my ancestors.  I go to learn about current events, to discover a story that enlightens some dark corner of society.  The shelves of pages, so neatly organized and catalogued, emit the promise of undiscovered brilliance, the book tucked away that might just change my life.  The library radiates tranquility and peace, the whispers of fellow students, readers, children, retired old men, each camping out in this beautiful oasis amidst the smog of errands and work and gridlock. I go to the library to find fellow souls who value the power of the written word, who seek to make the world a better place, to make themselves better, to catch a few minutes of quiet and safety before heading out to the bustle of our daily lives.  I go to the library to chat with the librarians about new books, good books, and just to be amidst others who love to read as much as I do. 

I'm probably one of those annoying library patrons - the girl who notices the woman scanning the book jacket and feel compelled to go over and let her know "it's a wonderful book - you should read it. And also this one. Oh, and this author is incredible. And have you read so and so?" I admit - I get a little carried away. 

Everyone has their passion, their causes, their issues that make them march in protest, send mass emails begging for support, write donation checks, and argue fervently with their friends.  I know you may think there are worthier causes: preventing genocide and war, poverty, homelessness, helping children who go to bed hungry, battered women, and widespread injustice.  Yes, all very important issues, all virtuous passions. 

But don't be fooled - saving the library is just as worthy as stamping out intolerance.  We hear it all of the time - education is the tool to change the world.  Libraries, veiled educators, can nurture children who grow up to be kind, to share, to protect our environment, who accept different skin colors, different religions, different cultures as enriching rather than threatening. The library offers tools to free yourself from joblessness, homelessness, and illiteracy.  This utopia of books allows readers to select any struggle that ails them and find authors that share their troubles. It allows patrons to discover solutions to tribulations, new perspectives, and alternative coping mechanisms. 

Over the years, I have checked out picture books by the armful, Babysitter's Club series, classic authors, SAT guides, College Guides, first novels by bright young authors, every page written by Anne Lamott, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Naomi Ragen, and Joyce Carol Oates.  I borrow fiction with eye-catching covers and titles recommended by the New York Times Book review.  I read about being a writer, being a Jew, being a woman, being an adult.  I devour memoirs about addiction, depression, marriage, divorce, being a mother, losing a child, illness and health, loving men, loving women, loving life.  I lose myself in the rare great novel, that unexpected treasure of words that makes me shut the book with just ten pages remaining so that the story lasts a little longer.  I find friends among characters, and learn about my own character by getting acquainted with them.  I get the chance to be connected with mentors who teach through their written works to transform who I am and enable who I can become.

I browse the "New Fiction" shelf, the "New Nonfiction" table, the recently returned DVDs.  I request titles online and am fulfilled by the 'Holds' shelf where my books sit, lovingly labeled with my name, just waiting for me to come pick them up. I hear the call of the pages asking to be read, cherished, enjoyed while sitting on the grass in the sun, lying in bed, or curled up on the couch on a rainy day. I choose books that remind me of my life, that remind me nothing of my life, books describing foreign plots or countries, and books that call to me for no apparent reason. 

I realize that not everyone likes to read.  I know some prefer television or using the internet, or reading only while lying on the sand.  I recognize that many books can be downloaded or listened to while driving or recapped in Cliff's notes.  I understand that reading might seem like a chore, reminiscent of elementary school and summer reading lists.  I empathize with those who can't find the time to read, who fall asleep every time they open their book, who read documents all day at work losing the attraction to pleasure reading. 

However, even if libraries aren't your obsession, your passion, your definition of perfection, they still are pillars of our community. Libraries remain one of the few free destinations whose only purpose is to educate, to entertain, and to motivate. They foster a love for new ideas, an appreciation for creativity and imagination, a sense of endless possibilities and growth.  They are like the puppies at the humane society, only wanting the chance to wag their tails and offer boundless love.  The library asks for nothing in return, freely lending its goods and hoping that you come back for more.  And should you be tardy, then for 10 cents a day, you are forgiven.

So, no matter who you are and what you might be passionate about, please help save the Los Angeles public library and ensure that it remains there for those that want it, those who need it, and those like me who simply can't imagine a week without multiple visits and armfuls of books. 
I am a woman on a mission, and I need your help. 

Time remaining: 8 days. 
Prize: Unlimited reading material, dvds, magazines, newspapers, internet access, and the space to    breathe in a quiet room held up by the wisdom of those gone before us.
Actions to take:
1.     Visit in order to write a letter, an email, a novel to Mayor Villaraigosa, Sign a petition, and Join the Save our Libraries facebook page
2.     Tell your friends about the threat to our libraries
3.     Just keep reading

Thank you for your support. 

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