Across the nation, libraries face budget cuts and closures that pose a greater threat to our intellectual infrastructure than even Beavis and Butt-head. (A staggering 47 percent of Americans are functionally illiterate.) Privatization and the religious right are also hazardous to the health of public libraries. "It's frightening to see one of the central institutions of democracy killed," says Grant P. Thompson, executive director of New York-based Libraries for the Future. LFF is helping communities throughout the United States, from Los Angeles to New York, mobilize to save their libraries. Some tips that work:
- PLUG IN:
- Volunteer with the library's literacy programs, children's reading groups, creation of computer databases.
- TURN ON:
- Use the library as a resource for your activist group. Says Thompson, "If organizations like the Gray Panthers, Sierra Club, and homeless advocacy groups each had a library committee, [LFF] could go out of business."
- GO PUBLIC:
- Find out five specific things that the library has done for your community and get them publicized by the local media.
- BOOK SPACE ON THE INTERNET:
- Write your national representatives and tell them it's vital that public on-ramps at local libraries be secured on the National Information Infrastructure (NII), currently under study in Washington. Warns Thompson, "Any library not connected into cyberspace is going to be three-quarters of a library."
- JOIN LIBRARIES FOR THE FUTURE:
- It's free, including the call, 1-800-LIB-1918. LFF provides resources and strategies for a successful advocacy campaign.
For example, rally round the following American Library Association-sponsored dates: library card sign-up month in September (hold a mass sign-up at a mall or community center); Banned Books Week in the last week of September (stage a "read-in" on the library steps); National Library Week in the third week of April (stage a protest rally with "what the library means to me" testimonials).