Mecklenburg County has decided to close half of its library branches and lay off close to 150 library employees. This is in response to a budget shortfall which is only expected to get worse in the next fiscal year. Unsurprisingly there is a lot of finger pointing about who should have seen this coming, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the overall public outrage at the idea of our “World Class City” closing half of its respected library branches.
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I have no idea what the solution to this problem is, and I can’t say I know that any one thing is to blame. I also can’t convince you to give your money or your time to help keep these branches and services open. Instead, I just wanted to write a little stream of consciousness piece about how the Mecklenburg county library system has touched my family’s lives over the years.
I certainly hope this isn’t a eulogy.
I remember moving to Charlotte fresh out of college about eleven years ago. One of the first places I visited was the main library on Tryon Street- I used their computers to search for a job, update my resume, and check email to keep up with old friends.
I remember standing in line at the University branch for what seemed like forever to vote in the 2000 presidential election. Since moving uptown I’ve participated in early voting at the main library innumerable times.
I have two recycle bins that I picked up from the library when we purchased our first home and didn’t have any bins.
I believe it was around three or four years ago that we discovered how ridiculously easy it was to request books from the library online- you make an online request for a book in the catalog, tell them which branch you would like to pick it up at, and when it’s ready (usually the next day!) you can just walk in and grab your materials. I’ve not purchased a book since discovering this.
I still don’t know who is in charge of the music collection within the system, but they have done an astounding job of providing an eclectic mix within their music catalog. I’m admittedly a bit of a music snob, yet I always find something that impresses me within the main branch’s collection.
Basically, up until we had a kid I utilized the library as a connection point for local government services, a communication tool, a free bookstore, and a new music sampling station. Over three years ago we had a kid and I decided to become a stay at home dad, and that’s when my relationship with the public library system became much richer.
If it’s possible to find a crown jewel in our wonderful library system it has to be ImaginOn. My first venture out of the house as a new stay at home parent was there and my daughter and I have spent a good deal of time at ImaginOn since. Within this environmentally green building we discovered multiple story times geared for different age groups, but always done by folks with a passion for children and helping them learn to enjoy books, computer activities for kids, toddler learning areas, and a place for children to learn about the theater and performing arts. ImaginOn truly is a place that encourages creativity in children (and their adult chaperones).
When not at ImaginOn my daughter and I made our home away from home the nearby Plaza Midwood library. There, at the wonderful story times lead by Mrs. Elizabeth, we met many of the friends we still have today.
Two years ago the main branch hosted an art gallery of sorts that featured the original artwork from some very popular children’s book. My daughter and I loved visiting that gallery and the little reading nook they constructed within it.
Not an evening passes that I’m not falling asleep while reading a book checked out from the library (next to me is my wife who is also reading a library book). One of my daughter’s favorite places to go is still what she calls “her library” (ImaginOn). As I write this I’m listening to a CD I checked out from the library last week.
I’m grateful that based on my location none of my libraries are on the chopping block (yet), but saddened as I know and have become friends with several librarians who were notified that they were losing their jobs last Friday.
Again, I have no grand ideas to share about what the solution to this problem is, nor do I know if the efforts to rally the public to save the libraries are going to do any good, but my experience has shown the library system to be a valuable resource for this community. A resource of such value that even the thought to close them makes me question the leadership within our community. If you feel the same I urge you to contact your commissioner and ask them to reconsider this draconian measure.
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