The Human Side of the Ledger
MARCH brings daffodils,
Think of the library as the bellwether of the economy. When times are tight, libraries see business booming. At the CRRL, we're checking out more books (1.2 million more than last year), answering close to a million reference questions, and experiencing a 50 percent increase in computer bookings. People are making a beeline to our libraries to seek and apply
The library is the one place in town where everyone is welcome, service is provided free to all, and no one minds if you park with your laptop for hours on end. Clearly, the public knows this: People are using libraries more than ever. Funding the CRRL is a good investment for several reasons. First of all, the CRRL offers unparalleled return on investment. Participating jurisdictions--Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland counties--pay according to use. If residents of one county check out 40 percent of the books, that county is asked to fund 40 percent
But what makes this a terrific return on investment is that these residents, though they may fund only 40 percent of the budget, have access
Funding the CRRL also appeals to fiscal conservatives because of the cost-effective way regional libraries are structured. A centralized administration serves the entire region, avoiding duplication of administrative services: one office for Talking Books for the Blind, one department to buy and process the books, and one IT department.
This regional structure is so cost-effective that the commonwealth rewards regional libraries through a formula that awards more state funding to them than it does to single-jurisdiction systems. This is money for books that the localities do not have to provide, and it makes a big difference in the library's budget.
But there is more to libraries than dollars and cents. It was Jefferson who said, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Public libraries were first established in this country before the Revolutionary War with the intent of providing educational
AN AMERICAN QUALITY
Most of those early libraries lacked one essential quality that distinguishes today's libraries: access for all. Benjamin Franklin and friends founded a library in 1731, but the Library Company of Philadelphia was open only to members who paid for the privilege. It was not until the turn of the last century that public libraries as we know them today--paid for by taxes, maintained by the government, and open to everyone--were widely established, leading scholars
In the early days, libraries tended to see themselves as treasure houses where books were protected from untrustworthy readers, but by the mid-19th century thinking had changed. Now the guiding principle was connecting people with the books they wanted to read. Instead of banning children, public libraries welcomed them, and soon opened their doors to everyone.
From the beginning, libraries have played a part
In Fredericksburg, a library was first established in 1822, but it didn't take off until Capt. C. Wistar Wallace bequeathed $15,000 to
Meanwhile, residents of Stafford County received
Since then, the jurisdictions have built eight libraries that are symbols of civic pride. Residents of our area enjoy top-ranked library service, including an award-winning Web site. Most important, our area supports the American values of an educated citizenry and free access to information for all through the foundation of democracy: our vibrant,
Originally published in the Free Lance-Star newspaper on March 7, 2010.