You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Monday, March 29, 2010


In a best case scenario, you would finish reading this first sentence, go immediately to the web site of your local public library, click on their "Support Us" page, and donate somewhere between twenty and a thousand dollars. If that has not been the case, read on.

Over the past year I have rediscovered the Dallas Public Library, and my enthusiasm for it could be that of the born-again user. I love going in the place -- the place being my neighborhood branch. It's almost always busy. The computers are all in use, some kind of meeting is taking place in the community room, mothers are checking out twenty children's books and a dozen DVD's. I like the way people are lined up to get in at noon, and I enjoy hearing some one's incredulous response when they learn they owe five dollars in overdue charges.

But public libraries are in dire condition. One reason people line up to get in at noon is because the hours have been cut back. I was surprised that certain new books I expected to put on my reserve list would not be coming in at all, but then I read that acquisition budgets for the year were a fraction of what they had been. Libraries need money bad, and we the public should give it to them.

Libraries can make a pretty good case for themselves when city budget time comes around, but everything is subject to the axe nowadays. Most libraries have private sector foundations that also support them, but that doesn't mean they are not always in need of cash. So send them twenty bucks. (And don't fall back on that bit about "I give them tax dollars." It's not enough, and it's probably about 20 cents a year.)

Libraries could really benefit from the sort of grassroots donations that helped fuel the Obama campaign -- small amounts from large numbers of people. You can also specify that money you give goes directly to your local branch and that it be used for one of several categories. When I gave them some money last year, I asked that it go towards acquisitions of adult non-fiction, and I checked the box specifying that I would like my name on a bookplate. I assume that by now at least one or two car repair manuals or repellent memoirs by right wing politicians bear the inscription, "Made Possible by a Gift from Charles Dee Mitchell." But that's fine. That's why they call it The Public Library.

You can also give the library books and other stuff. Some one told me recently that they had considered donating books to the library until they found out that the library just "turned around and sold them." Having worked for thirty years in the used and remainder book business, I feel that I can speak with some authority here. There is a 90% chance that the majority of books you have are of little or no real value, or they are in a format the library cannot use. But for a library to put a second hand copy of a book into their system could be just as expensive as buying a new one, if not more expensive. What they need is whatever cash the donations can generate. And really what else are you going to do with them? Sell them and complain about how little you were offered? Just give them to the library. Maybe they can sell them for a couple of bucks apiece. And buy more books or paper clips.

I have taken to giving the library current magazines once a month. They seem to do a lively trade in them at a quarter a pop. And you sure don't want those things piling up around your own house.

So this is my soapbox cause. Giving to libraries is not on the level of giving to charities that save human lives, but it should be a part of your life as a citizen. It should be something you do on a regular basis. And doing it now is just three or four clicks away.

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