It takes a village...


It's National Library Week (April 12 - 18), and here in HCN's hometown of Paonia, Colo. we just celebrated the opening of our brand-new public library. After 5 years of hard work, the old, dingy, 3,700-square-foot library has been replaced by an 8,000-square-foot building with tall windows that let in plenty of light and a view of the mountains. The chairs are comfy, the kid's corner welcoming.

I remember small towns by their libraries: The moss-covered cottage in Inverness, Calif., where I curled up on the window seat and worked on my thesis for a week; the old train depot in Lyons, Colo., with the moldy collection of historic silverplates that made me sneeze. Anyone who grew up in a small, rural town knows how important these oases are. They provide crucial access to the internet, and many other services like ESL and literacy classes. They are havens for difference and intellectual growth in sometimes harsh, inhospitable surroundings. They are often poorly funded and staffed, with erratic hours. 

2008 was a hard year for libraries, according to the 2009 State of American Libraries report, released April 13. In the West, Stanislaus County Library in Modesto, Calif., laid off 94 of its 130 part time staff. The Washoe County library system in Nevada took a $1.96 million cut from its $13 million budget. 

As people buy fewer books, CDs, and stop paying for Internet at home, library use is up. In Boise, Idaho, there was a 61 percent increase in new library cards in 2008. In Boulder, Colo., the circulation of job-hunting materials rose 14 percent.

81 percent of the funding for public libraries comes from local government taxes; 9.6 percent from state government;  8.4 percent from non-tax sources, and 0.5 percent  from the federal government, according to a recent study.  Libraries without a strong local tax base have to compete with other locally funded services like police, fire service, and education to survive. 

 A chunk of the money for Paonia's new library came from taxes on nearby energy development, but the majority came from grants and individual donations. Although she still has to choose between shutting the doors early every day or staying closed on Mondays due to budget cuts, library manager Myrna Westerman is thrilled about the new facility. And to celebrate National Library Week, she says, all borrowers with overdue fees are off the hook until Saturday.