Banned Books Week had me thinking back to the first and only protest I participated in. It was during my junior year, when my undergrad’s administration and Board of Visitors decided to leave “sexual orientation” out of the school’s nondiscrimination clause. An incredibly large percentage of the student body gathered in silent, peaceable protest (with signs and a petition) to fight for the rights of our fellow student-body members who felt they were threatened by the lack of inclusiveness in the nondiscrimination clause. There was a feeling of unity, of fulfilling a greater purpose and, thankfully, of victory when the BOV changed their minds and people of all sexual orientations were protected at the school. It was a lesson in the power of the people. Those feelings and lessons got me excited about the many people (mostly kids) who have learned this same lesson by fighting for their right to read.
I haven’t joined any other protests since that day, though, I have signed petitions and given money to causes that I support. I recently signed a petition (or really a declaration) at the Virginia Library Association conference. The Declaration for the Right to Libraries is a recent ALA initiative aimed at building support for libraries across the country. It’s not really about frequent library users, though we love most of our frequent users at the library. What it’s really about is what have been labelled as nonusers or lost users, those that have never used the library or those that signed up for a card and never returned. These people, generally, tend to support libraries, even when they don’t use them. They want libraries there for what they bring to society as a whole or in case they are one day vital to that person’s well-being. Maybe they are 20-somethings who want libraries around for their kids to use. Or 50- to 60-year-olds who want libraries to be there when they plan to retire. Whoever these people are, they need libraries just as much as the frequent users do. But their support for libraries generally isn’t counted when libraries have to turn in “the numbers” that prove their value. To combat this, the Declaration for the Right to Libraries is being signed at libraries across the U.S. this year, and next year it will be submitted to Congress.
But for those of you who don’t go to your local library for various reasons but support the library anyway, I encourage to visit the ALA website and sign the declaration yourself. Everyone needs libraries, even if you’re not actively using them. The declaration itself is more in-depth, but I will offer the following factors that highlight what libraries bring to societies and why we have a right to their continued existence:
- Libraries empower the individual.
- Libraries support literacy, lifelong learning and strong families.
- Libraries are the great equalizer.
- Libraries build communities.
- Libraries protect our right to know.
- Libraries strengthen our nation.
- Libraries advance research and scholarship.
- Libraries help us to better understand each other.
- Libraries preserve our nation’s cultural heritage.
Working in a public library, I can point to each category and match it with a patron that benefited in that way. So read the deeper explanations for why libraries support these factors and then, if you are so inclined, sign the declaration.