You Tell Us: Save Oakland’s libraries
on June 20, 2011
On Tuesday the City Council will be discussing a proposal to close 13 branch libraries, keep the remaining 4 open only 3 days a week, and closing other special rooms and services offered by the library system. (More details can be found on SaveOaklandLibrary.org.)
As a resident of Oakland and parent of two small children who visit the Temescal branch weekly, I am outraged at this drastic proposal. Public libraries are part of the foundation of our democracy and represent some of our highest social ideals — equality, knowledge, and community. It is so easy in these challenging economic times to target the poor and politically unconnected, and this is an egregious example of that kind of thinking. What is happening to American society? Where are all of the wealthy who used to support these kinds of institutions for the public good?
Our Temescal branch was originally built as one of the Carnegie libraries of California: He supported branches that brought books to closer to where the people lived. Our family can walk to our Temescal library, enjoying fresh air and sunshine while being eco-friendly as well. Centralizing and consolidating makes sense to a point, but not to the extreme of closing down libraries.
What does it say to a child to walk by a shuttered public library, perhaps covered with graffiti, boarded up and unused? That society doesn’t care about knowledge and learning? That big paychecks for the few, the well-connected, is more important than helping children, immigrants, and those with literacy challenges to read, write and speak in English and other languages? That books, magazines, videos and computers — key media for having social literacy and connectivity — are only for the affluent?
What does it say about a city of Oakland’s size to have only four libraries left? What does it say to propose closing the Oakland History Room and the African-American Museum and Library? Does it say to the world that our history is not worth preserving and sharing?
The African-American Museum & Library’s mission is stated as being “dedicated to discover, preserve, interpret and share the historical and cultural experiences of African Americans in California and the West for present and future generations.” It is imperative that we consider the impact of these decisions not just now, not just six months or a year from now, but 10, 20, 30 years from now. What will be our legacy as residents of Oakland, of the Bay Area, of California, of the United States of America?
Karen Witham lives in North Oakland. Her two children are big fans of library story times and the magic of bringing home new books to read every week. She has benefitted from school, public, and university libraries her whole life and has previously worked at the Florida State University Libraries.
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