Libraries and community:

The library was shut down in March after a pipe burst in the
building where it was housed. The building is old, built in the 40s
when Altgeld was constructed as housing for black war workers, and
fixing the damage is expensive. City officials at the library, the
Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Public Schools are looking
for a replacement, and have some hope of a new plan being announced
soon. But until then, no library for the kids at Altgeld.

Last week, I was down at Altgeld with resident and community
advocate Cheryl Johnson. I asked her about the library closing and her
thoughts on what its meant to the kids she works with in the community.

“If they want to do homework, if they want to look something up on
the internet, they don’t have a place to do it,” she said. “What are
you telling our kids? Your only future mindset is to be a prisoner.”


The city is working on a plan to reopen the library. Both library
and CHA officials told me they hope to have something to announce soon
about when a new facility will open.

But sitting there at Altgeld, Cheryl asked me – if this happened in your neighborhood, how long do you think it would go on?

I don’t know, I said. But nine months later, I don’t think we’d still be waiting for an answer.

If my local library shut down for nine days with no word about when it would reopen, never mind nine months, people would have a fuckingcat with wings. I mean it, there would be riots. Not just because it’s the local kiddies’ source for all things Harry Potter, or a way to amuse the little nippers when school is out, though that’s a sizable part of it. And not just because of the mysticalthing about books and how stories bring us together and all that shit that gets writer-dorks like me hot, though that’s in there too.

Because it’s also a way for people out of work to job-search. If you don’t have a computer, you need a way to search for work online and send out e-mails and your resumé, not to mention something to format that stuff on in the first place. The computer labs and Internet portals are always jammed, there’s always a waiting list, there’s always a line. I take stuff like being able to log on to whatever job site or Craigslist whenever or Facebook or LinkedIn or blogs for granted so much, because I can, but if I couldn’t? I would LIVE at whatever place I could do those things, and for many people that’s the library.

Not to mention work experience for teenagers and volunteer experience that helps you build a resumé in a world where nobody wants to hire you to get the experience you need before you can get hired, and a place for the elderly to hang out and read the newspapers and magazines and whatnot. For God’s sake, if we’re going to smug on all day about how young people don’t read anymore and don’t know how to write in anything but AOL kiddiespeak, then how can we turn around and shut down places that foster a love of those things and the valuing of them?

This is what makes me so crazy all the time about glibertarian bullshit that people should just rise up and overcome whatever, like it’s easy, not understanding how this stuff actually works. I mean, just fucking THINK: The places you grew up, not just literally but intellectually, the places you went and felt safe, the places that had things you needed, the places that helped you, who would you be if those places didn’t exist? Who would you be if you didn’t have them to go to? And if you say you know, if you say you have any idea, you’re lying.


12 thoughts on “Bookstraps!

  1. Had this conversation a long time ago with a upper class twit libertarian I knew who was a senior VP at Bain and Co (Mitt Romney’s old company). Total asshole of a guy. Married to a friend of mine. He was explaining to me that he preferred to buy new hardcover mysteries and things and just throw them out when he was done with them and he never went to the library so libraries need not be subsidized by the state since everyone could/should do that. I pointed out that libraries serve a social, intellectual, educational, and purely safety zone need for the poor and middle class who don’t regard books as disposable product. And he told me he thought government should be spending its money on weapons instead because poor people probably just read trashy books anyway. (!) He’d forgotten the beginning of the conversation at that point and seemed to be arguing that we should prevent people from reading trashy books if they couldn’t afford to destroy them once they were done with a single use reading of them.

  2. Heh. You must live in one of those liberal enclaves. Here in Nashville library hours have been cut back to save $$ and, well, what can you do. Meanwhile the mayor is trying to sell the city on a bazillion-dollar convention center, at the behest of our local chamber.
    Priorities, don’tcha know.

  3. Libraries are akin to churches for me. My parents got me a library card when I was four, and signed the little form that said I could also get books from the grown up side. It wasn’t about being poor (though we weren’t rich) it was about LEARNING and having CURIOSITY. Which of course, the conservatives don’t have have much truck with either…
    Working at the Domestic Violence Hotline, I quickly learned how valuable a lifeline they are for women who couldn’t use their home computers to make arrangements and find resources for leaving, or merely to communicate openly via their own email accts to “the outside.”
    Luckily, the great library in the little town where I live now has actually expanded staff and a brand new wing. Imagine that, voting to give the library MORE money.

  4. I was never in a library until I entered college. The tiny town I grew up in didn’t have one. The grade school I went to had two shelves of very old books, all of which I read. The high school I went to didn’t have one. A bookmobile came by once.
    In college I spent much of my non studying time in the library, usually back in the stacks, pulling down books at random to browse in. Once I discovered a shelf of old Missouri (the state I grew up in) history. I read most of those standing in the stacks. I checked one of the editions of War and Peace, read half and had to return it. Then checked out another edition, found my place and finished it over Christmas vacation, dreaming of being back in Russia when Napoleon invaded.
    I still go to my library occasionally, but my daughter is getting me a Barnes and Noble “Nook” electronic book reader for a late Christmas present, so it is on to the future for me now.

  5. I was a ravenous reader as a child and spent many hours at the library. I’m still a voracious reader, but I’ve accumulated so many books I don’t need to borrow more. Still I spend some volunteer time every year at my local library.

  6. One of the nice things in the old Carnegie mansion (now a branch of the Smithsonian) in NYC is a hallway in the basement where they have pictures of libraries that ol’ Andrew built throughout the country. He believed in libraries as a public good and that they helped people and communities. He himself was a library user as a child and adult. He helped pay for the construction of some 2,500 libraries, 1,689 of them in the United States.
    As a child I spent many hours a week reading in my Queens local library and then bringing home as many books as I could. As a teenager, my first trips into Manhattan were to go to the larger libraries there. I’ve lost the library habit but still believe they are very important to community life. BTW, for historical reasons NYC has three systems: Manhattan (which also covers the Bronx and Staten Island), Brooklyn and Queens.

  7. I’d be dumb as a brick if it weren’t for libraries.
    Which means that I’d probably be a low-wage-earning/child-support-dodging/meth-using/in-and-out-of-the-joint welfare case.
    Without libraries, I would’ve missed out on knowing a lot of stuff (as well as enjoying the A/C), which would have seriously limited my opportunities when older. Now that I’m a well-educated/tax-paying/no-child-having productive member of society, I’d say those were good investments.

  8. Having lived all my life in the (general) Southland area, this story breaks my heart. And it reminded me of this story from last year:
    Now, the children of The Gardens need a refuge more than the children of Oak Brook but if a wealthy enclave will argue against the value of a library, what chance does a poor district have in this economy? Personally, I never pass up a vote for more money for the schools or libraries–because I want educated, informed young people around to subsidize my needs when I get older. 🙂

  9. I think I read most of the local small-town library closest to my parents’ house when I was a kid. I always kept the Interlibrary Loan service humming, after that.
    I don’t go into the downtown main library that’s closest to my house much anymore, not since they moved it from a beautiful old marble-floored building to a quasi-storefront location in the downtown shopping mall, and plastered corporate logos all over everything. It actuallyoffends me to have to walk by the Coca-Cola Reading Lounge and the General Motors Business Collection rooms. (Especially the General Motors one!) There are also now vending machines all over the place in there. Going to the library downtown anymore is like being trapped in a giant product placement.
    Besides, you have togive the books back afterward, so that’s why gets a lot of my money anymore… 🙁

  10. Interrobang:
    you need an account with a good used bookstore!
    I go to the library’s annual garage sale for trade fodder. Just sayin’ … those shopping-bag-fulls of romances for $1 will get me 20 or 30 reasonably good used paperback mysteries or 2 or 3 good used sci-fi paperbacks, over a year …

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