In the continuing NPR series, Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries, Neda Ulaby reported on the dire financial circumstances many libraries find themselves in. In Vermont, for instance, which touts itself as the state with the most libraries per capita, some are teeny, one-room operations, open only in summer for a couple of hours a day, and are completely volunteer-run (reminding me of how the Mightly Twig here in Evanston operated for a few years until the CAMS branch opened). “No paid librarians,” one volunteer in Ludlow, VT points out. “We function on donations, book sales, bake sales ….” Ulaby continues her report with examples of how libraries in various states get funded. The range is broad: some are funded through city or state budgets, some rely on legacies and donations only, some have a mix of sources. Almost all are suffering in today’s economy.
On Monday’s NPR Morning Edition continuing series on the public library in the U.S. today, Joel Rose reported on the crucial role a local public library takes during and after a disaster. From the simple (allowing people to clean up in the restrooms, charging cell phones, canceling fines for overdues and lost books) to the complex (helping folks register with FEMA, setting up free financial aid seminars, letting the Red Cross use space as a gathering center), libraries step up to help their communities in ways beyond their usual roles. And, according to library staffer Kathleen McKenzie at the tiny South Beach library branch in Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy, “they’d stop and speak for hours to us. Just pour their hearts out,” she says. “So what we did was offer what the library offered and that was to not charge any fees or fines and excuse anything that was lost in Hurricane Sandy. But we also asked if we could do anything on a personal level.”