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Friends of the Library: Libraries need maintenance, too

April 19, 2012|By Mary Ellen Goddard

More than 100 years ago, the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie saw the potential for the public library to be the center of enlightened learning in every community. He offered to build libraries if communities would contribute land, furnish money for annual maintenance, and exercise governance and oversight.

Between 1881 and 1917, he invested the modern-day equivalent of $3 billion to build 1,689 libraries across the nation. Carnegie's investment and the involvement of those communities helped educate generations of Americans.

Libraries continue to do so. The problem is that we, the public, tend to think that once the library is there, it can continue doing its job without considering what has happened to the buildings, technology, population, the needs of the public and more.

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Consider how often your own home needs maintenance — leaking pipes and roofs, termites, faulty wiring, general wear and tear — to say nothing of the times you might have liked to change a wall, or add a room to make space for additional family or changed activities. Public buildings such as libraries have these same needs.

Consider how much technology has changed, not only in the last 100 years, but in the last decade, five years, or even a year. When you go to the library, you expect to find, if not the latest, at least fairly recent computers and software. And behind the scenes, if it were not for refitting of electrical systems, those computers would not be able to operate.

Consider that the square footage of our three Costa Mesa libraries only amounts to about 16,400 square feet. This is less than a third of the standard recommendation for square footage per capita.

Some people say that, with computers and electronic books, we don't need bigger libraries. But libraries across the nation are finding that computers in libraries are adding to library use and that, although eBooks are gaining in popularity, it will be a long time before all people are reading them, and before all books are available digitally.

I will talk more later on changes in library services and financing in the last 100 years, but in the meantime, I would like to encourage you all to consider exercising "governance and oversight" of our public libraries.

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Writers' Workshops

Don't forget to sign up for the last two sessions of the Beginning Writers' Workshop, sponsored by the Costa Mesa Library Foundation.

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