By Karen Reilly
Welcome to National Library Week! OK, National Library Week isn’t until next month, but for me, every week is Library Week, so I’m celebrating early. In case you haven’t heard of it, National Library Week is an annual celebration of the contributions of our nation’s libraries (and library workers), and an opportunity to promote library use and support. The theme for 2019 National Library Week is “Libraries = Strong Communities.”
National Library Week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), and they kick off the week by releasing their annual State of American Libraries Report, which will be released on Monday, April 8. Last year’s report yielded some interesting data:
A majority of U.S. voters believe public libraries are essential to communities and a source of civic pride.
Voters still highly value such traditional library services as free access to books and quiet areas, but they also increasingly value the library as a community hub.
A total of 70 percent of voters visited a public library in 2017, in addition to 52 percent who visited online.
“Foundational” library services — including quiet spaces, access to books and technology, and Wi-Fi access — continue to be very important for two-thirds of voters.
The majority of voters (58 percent) indicate they are likely to vote for local ballot efforts that benefit libraries. A strong majority also support federal funding for libraries and are willing to donate money to support libraries.
A majority of voters still do not realize that the primary source of library funding is local.
You can access the 2018 State of America’s Libraries Report online at bit.ly/2TJcH6t.
It’s great to see that we have strong support from the public, but a little distressing to hear that our patrons don’t know who pays for their local library. The vast majority of our services are paid for by the city of San Diego’s general fund. That means that you are funding library services through your taxes. We also receive vital support from our Friends of the Library organizations, the Library Foundation and many generous private donors, of course, but most of our funding comes directly from you.
The State of America’s Libraries Report also includes an annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books for the previous year. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom creates this list by compiling challenges to library, school and university materials and services around the country.
Each year’s list typically includes a selection of books for a variety of age groups, which include descriptions of sex, a character who is gay or transgender, or profanity. Some years’ lists also include more surprising choices: In 2015, the Bible made the top 10 list, due to its “religious viewpoint”; the 2013 top 10 list included Dav Pilkey’s juvenile chapter book series about the crime-fighter Captain Underpants (possessor of awesome wedgie power!), because it included “offensive language” and violence; and in 2010, the top 10 list included Barbara Ehrenreich’s then-nine-year-old book “Nickel and Dimed,” about her stint undercover working at low wage jobs, in part because of its “political and religious viewpoint.”
As a taxpayer-funded institution, the San Diego Public Library does not promote any particular belief or view, but acts as a resource where individuals can freely examine many sides of issues or ideas and make their own decisions. What does this mean? Every San Diegan can find something they love at their local library, and something that offends them. We do have a procedure for formally reconsidering any library resource at the request of a patron, but we rarely receive challenges.
A final fun National Library Week fact: Wednesday, April 10 is National Bookmobile Day. With the growth of our branch system (35 locations, and more on the way!), we have long since retired our bookmobile. But there were still 647 bookmobiles operating around the country as of 2015, according to an Institute of Library and Museum Services study. And they work hard. The Rochester Hills Library Bookmobile in Minnesota visits a whopping 24 locations a week, according to research by Tara Dankowski for an article in American Libraries Magazine titled “By the Numbers: Bookmobiles.”
We are grateful for your support all year, in the form of your tax dollars, donations to the Friends of the Library, and support of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. On Tuesday, April 9, National Library Workers Day, we would also appreciate cookies.
— Karen Reilly is managing librarian of the Mission Valley Branch Library.