Why bother to save the Foothills branch library in Glendale from sale? After all, proponents of the sale say we will still have the 65,000 SF Main library, the Velma Teague branch at 15,000 SF and will have a downsized Foothills branch library at about 9,000 SF located at the Foothills Recreation and Aquatic Center (FRAC). To hear the city’s mouthpiece, the current Library Director Michael Beck tell it, Glendale is advancing technologically by the adoption of a digital library system and that big, old 33,500 SF branch is no longer needed. Really? I beg to differ.

I have given a great deal of thought as to why this library or any library, for that matter, is important to our community of Glendale. Its sale devalues our community in so many ways.

A little history is in order. Our nation’s public library system was an American invention. Europeans had had libraries for years, hundreds of years before America was born…but they were subscription libraries and not affordable for the general public.

The public library system was born in 1833 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. All of its citizens decided that everyone within the town had the right to share, free of charge and regardless of one’s income, all of the community’s stored knowledge. The only stipulations were that the material had to be returned in good condition and on time.

It was a radical, new idea that quickly spread. There were 188 public libraries in 11 states by 1880. Every state had public libraries by 1910. Today, across the country there are nearly 20,000 main or branch public libraries.  There are more libraries in this country than there is any chain store or eatery, including Starbucks.  70% of all of the people in this country have a library card. A majority of Americans…doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, brown or purple…doesn’t matter if you are young or old…doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor…doesn’t matter if you are educated or a dropout…use the public library system.

Public libraries have evolved over the years to meet specific community needs. Gone are the days of the stereotypical, pinch-faced librarian demanding silence. I remember a high school field trip to our local, public library to learn, of all things, the Dewey Decimal System so that we could efficiently find our way through the college stacks as we researched material for the endless papers we had to write.

Today’s public libraries are part refuge and part community center. It would surprise you to know that many people who visit a public library don’t borrow a single book. For some it is a quiet sanctuary, warm and dry. You could sit there all day and not be bothered. It wards off the loneliness of life for others. Yet, in a fit of schizophrenia, it is a place of constant activities…you can take a class, participate in a book club discussion, hear a visiting musician or enjoy a lecture. Moms can take their little ones to story time to discover the wonderful, magical world of books.

It is a resource to those looking for a job, or needing to use a computer because they can’t afford one or the cost of the internet even if they had a computer. It is a place where a research librarian has helped countless numbers of children to do research for a writing assignment.

Its wealth is beyond measure…books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, movies.  You can use, read and borrow anything within its four walls…for free. Digital media is fine. I use it often, very often but there is something special about a book. The use of digital media is growing and should be encouraged but not as a replacement for the brick and mortar public library but as an enhancement to its offerings.

If nothing else will persuade about the importance of Foothills branch library to our community, consider these facts. A Florida study found that for each dollar of taxpayer money spent on libraries, communities received $6.54 in benefits. A Philadelphia study found that a home near a library increases in value by over $9,000.

There are all kinds of studies on the ideal size of a library system in a community. It seems to be generally accepted as a standard that a community should have 1 to 1.5 square feet per person. Glendale has a population of 239,000. That equates to a library system of between 239,000 square feet to 358,000 square feet. Glendale has the Main Library at 65,000 SF; Foothills at half that size for 33,500 SF; and Velma Teague at half of Foothills’ size at 15,000 SF. The total square feet of library space currently in Glendale is 113,500 square feet or about half the amount Glendale should have of between 239,000 – 358,000 square feet. If anything, this city council should be making a commitment to increase the amount of library space within our community and it could be done by building the long-awaited and overdue West Branch Library. Even if and when, it adds the West Branch library Glendale will still remain short of the space standard for a community.

The idea promoted by some staffers that Glendale residents can use other cities’ library resources it absurd. It is tantamount to declaring that Glendale is a second-rate city unwilling to meet the needs of its residents by providing the services that they consider important to the health and well being of all of Glendale.

Society in general and the people of Glendale, in particular, are not ready to abandon our libraries and if truth be told, will never be. Why bother to save Foothills? Because libraries are everything from haven to research center to community center for all. They are an anchor within our community. Libraries will continue to evolve and to adapt to societal and technological changes but they can never be replaced. A lot of information is available digitally these days but remember, a lot of information is still on paper.

© Joyce Clark, 2015


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