Since the founding of our nation, libraries have played a key role in our society and culture; this is particularly true today, as libraries offer everything from books to Internet access to job-search resources. It is therefore appropriate that February has been declared Library Lovers' Month, a month-long celebration of public, school, and private libraries of every kind. It is also a time for library supporters around the country to promote the valuable service libraries provide at a time when budget cuts threaten their very existence.
While National Library Week is held in April each year (with a particular focus on showing appreciation for library workers), Library Lovers' Month is more broad in scope. It encompasses libraries of every type, from the small home library to the New York Public Library. This month-long focus is particularly important for public libraries around the country today; with the ongoing recession hitting local economies hard, many public libraries face the stark reality of reduced staff, reduced operating hours, and even closure, all at a time when usage by citizens has increased dramatically. Large cities like New York, Phoenix, and Dallas have all cut their libraries' budgets and operating hours over the past few years, and California has considered completely eliminating state funding for public libraries (a devastating $30 million cut).
National Library Lovers' Month provides a wonderful opportunity to make people aware of how and why libraries are a crucial part of our communities. In fact, most of us have taken libraries for granted since we were children. However, libraries today (both school and public) are nothing like what most of us remember. The old card catalogues are gone, replaced by computerized searches, and the vast majority of libraries offer the free use of computers with Internet access. There are also typically activities for children and a wide variety of DVDs and CDs for far less than you'll pay Netflix or iTunes (because they're free).
Public libraries can also perform an invaluable service for those wanting to build their own personal library by allowing readers and collectors to "try before they buy." Reading books for free first eliminates buying new books only to find that they're not as good as the reviews claimed, and enables people to discover more new authors and titles than most of us could otherwise afford. Stopping at the library first can help you later to only spend money on books you know you want to collect.
For those with children, there is nothing better than browsing the titles in the children's section with them, only to stumble upon a book you read in fourth grade. Sharing something from your childhood like "The Three Investigators" series with a whole new generation certainly beats sitting in front of the television watching the latest "American Idol" installment. Simply noticing which books your kids naturally gravitate toward will give you more insight into what interests them; you can then look for opportunities to encourage and build on those interests.
Libraries aren't as flashy as the Super Bowl or Valentine's Day (which will get most of February's publicity), but all of us should make a point this month to visit our local library and show our support. Thank the staff at your children's school library, and maybe even begin a collection of your own that you can pass down to future generations. Libraries are a part of who we are and should never be taken for granted, lest we lose them.