I am writing as a long-term employee of the Allen County Public Library. I've worked for the library for nearly 30 years and, in that time, I've witnessed the love and deep appreciation this community has for their libraries. As a staff member and a patron both, I appreciate books, both for their entertainment value and for the cultural and historical record they preserve for us – as long as we value and safeguard them.
There are many small community libraries with limited collections, there are “popular” libraries with high-demand collections, and there are a few special libraries that make it their goal to preserve knowledge, to create and protect a living storehouse of thoughts, discoveries, philosophies, cultures, conflicts, solutions, etc. – the knowledge base of humankind. My feeling is that a library with the ability (i.e., space and funding) to house an extensive collection with the scope and depth to represent the whole of human knowledge has an obligation to humanity to strive to achieve that goal. If not our libraries, then who?
The ACPL has been renowned for being one of those rare libraries that broadens the knowledge base of humanity while society as a whole proceeds to dumb us down in so many ways. I truly believe this is where our far-reaching reputation and our tremendous community support stems from.
I believe the community is trying to make its voice heard, to say “wait a minute ... what's going on? Something is changing. I can't find the books I want. The shelves are emptying. I love my library ... where is it going?”
Things happened so quickly and so silently that one day people started to notice something was wrong and began to protest. The changes weren't requested or endorsed by the community. In fact, the community had only recently agreed that its library was worth expanding (at the expense of the individuals in the community) so that it could continue to be the vital institution we have been fostering for decades.
Suggestions for the board:
• Survey the public again now. Make the survey available on social media, on paper at all locations, in the news media. Ask the real questions about what the community wants the library to be. Let the taxpayers/patrons give their vote as to the purpose of their library. Then listen to them – have a dialogue. Be the stewards of their choices. Take suggestions from the staff, the board and the Concerned Library Patrons group. Represent all sides to get a fair analysis.
• Let's not try to compete with the large chain bookstores. For them, popularity is No. 1. Top sellers are their meat and gravy. We can learn from their marketing and displays, certainly, but if we all try to become a market for popular items, then who is left as the custodian of knowledge? That is the library's role. Let's not fail in that. That has been our preeminence, the thing that sets us apart as a “crown jewel,” a reference I have been hearing repeatedly. Let's let the bookstores cater to the popular books as they were designed to do. We need to provide for the demand of popular items, but not at the expense of our amazing collection.
• Let's not try to compete with community centers for activity spaces and meeting spaces. Let's let community centers provide for that as they are designed to do. While I admit it is a nice facet of the library to be able to provide that to a degree, it should not be at the expense of our amazing collection.
I'm asking the community to please take the time to let your feelings be known, whether you agree or disagree with the changes, particularly if you are a regular library user to whom this issue matters. Attend the board meetings. Write a letter to the editor. Let the board know your thoughts. This is an extremely important institution to our community and beyond. How do you feel about its future?
Karen Pressler is a Churubusco resident.