Guest Column: Books should be the focus of the library

January 18, 2012

By Kara Anderson

I am a mother of two young children, and we visit the Rockford Public Library at least once a week. Each time, we bring cloth bags bursting with library books to return, and then fill those bags up with even more great BOOKS.

Books — pages bound together, often with colorful photos or illustrations. Books that my children hold, and that we read together. We share those books, and they are important to us.

That is why I feel the need to express my concern over the library’s plan to convert 34 percent of their materials to digital resources.

The very idea of libraries has always been to make books available to everyone. The thought that families would not be able to afford to borrow books because they can’t pay for expensive electronics is incredibly upsetting, and honestly, makes me worry that the library board has lost touch with the community it is supposed to represent.

Almost 64 percent of Rockford is low income. When families are struggling to buy food and clothing and keep their homes warm this winter, there is simply no room to expect these same people to buy electronic readers at $100 or more per unit.

I feel the need to respond to Library Director Frank Novak’s guest column where he states that digital information and digital readers are becoming “the new normal.”

I believe that e-readers have their place, but that place is not in the hands of most Rockford residents, because they can’t afford them. Therefore, e-readers represent a barrier to books, and to learning. A digital conversion means that the poorest people — those who need access to free books the most — will be the ones to lose access.

I read his letter in the most recent issue of The Explorer, the library newsletter, where he discusses how the library is embracing e-readers, and he suggests adding a digital reader “to your wish list.” Next to his column appears an article about helping people pick e-readers.

As a lover of the library, I find these two articles make me very nervous. I feel that the e-train is leaving the station, and only those who can afford expensive electronics will be along for the ride. But what about the rest of the community — the majority of the community, who still rely on good old-fashioned books?

And how will the staff be affected by a digital conversion? Will hours be reduced further? Will branches be closed, as we enter Mr. Novak’s vision of the future ­— a place where library shelves are empty, and only the wealthiest people and adults can afford the experience of reading?

It breaks my heart to think of my children, wanting to learn about a topic, and losing out on the opportunity to go to a library and search the shelves, the opportunity to choose a book filled with vivid illustrations, and beautiful type.

There should always, always be a place for books. They are a precious resource that our community desperately needs.

If you agree, I ask that you please visit http://saveourrockfordlibrary.blogspot.com. Community members who care deeply about the future of our library and free access to all have formed a group called SOL, for Save Our Library. On this site, there will be updates available, as well as information about how to contact library board members. Remember, it is the job of these board members to represent our community — accurately, with integrity, and with fairness to all.

Kara Anderson is a Rockford resident, writer and mother who thinks of the library as a place where she can always tell her children yes.

From the Jan. 18-24, 2012, issue

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