Yes, I’ll Bang the Drum for the Library…

“For Rebecca and Sylvia, the new library can’t come soon enough!”

A woman walks in to a library in her old gardening shirt, after taking the dog for a sweaty walk and picking up her kid from school. Why? Because that’s what she does every Thursday.

On this particular Thursday, a lovely reporter was there, and asked her for her thoughts about the awesome-sauce new library being built down the road. What can the woman do but fluff her hair and turn to the guy with the hulking camera on his shoulder.
So there’s my sound bite and there’s my 9-year-old browsing the shelves at the Austin Public Library. Of course, for the rest of the afternoon I was distracted by all the ridiculously articulate bon mots I could have said if I’d only known that I’d be talking about libraries on camera that day.

Going to the library has been a part of my life, well, all my life. I’ve blogged about my own mother taking me to the library. After college, I got my Library Science degree and worked as a librarian in New York City for several years. As a parent, a reader, and a writer I find the library invaluable. When I was interviewed, I didn’t know what angle the story would be taking, and I’m glad I got to be the one of the voices cheering for the new library.
Now that I’ve seen the story, let’s be clear: I am all for transparency and realistic planning. According to the story, the original estimate for the library was 125 million. If that number had been in the bond in 2006, then the current price tag of 120 million would have been underbudget. It was wrong to misrepresent the amount this project would cost in the bond, no matter the intentions.
That said, can we stop measuring our tax expenditures on cultural institutions in terms of cops and firefighters? It’s a false comparison or at least a facile one. It’s definitely a tired old argument. Yes, money is tight and needs to be allocated carefully, but for any self-respecting city this is not an either or equation. I mean we expect both emergency services AND libraries, right? Why shouldn’t we have a library as nice as the one in Seattle or San Diego?

I believe all the arts are worthy of some portion of our tax dollars. I believe a free and open public library that offers books, materials, electronic access, databases, classes, meeting rooms, and yes, even a coffee shop is a cornerstone of our democracy. Above and beyond all of that, there is just something relaxing about walking into a building full of books. 

Well, relaxing until the reporter and her cameraman show up! 

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