Not Just About Books

Updated (9.30.11): “Sunday Hours at MLK Library Restored at Last Minute” (DCist)

From “Downtown library shutting its doors on Sundays” in this past Sunday’s Post:

This Sunday, parents read picture books aloud in the children’s room, teens lined up to use a mini-recording studio, and anxious Internet seekers checked a waiting list for computer access that was maxed out at 50 names.

It was a busy scene but, for many, a sad one: It marked the end of Sunday hours at the District?s main library. MLK was the last branch in the city, and one of the last libraries in the region, to stay open on a day when so much is closed. Continuing budget cuts mean an end to this Sunday refuge for families, teens and the homeless.

As columnist Petula Dvorak pointed out in yesterday’s Post:

The chasm between rich and poor, between those who have access to books and computers in their homes and those who don’t, grows wider by the day.

For those without, the public library isn’t as much about culture as it is about survival. In an increasingly digital world, health benefits, unemployment payments and job applications are almost all done online. Where does a lot of this happen?

Yup, at the local library.

In other words, DC’s public libraries do not house just books. They house vital resources — from internet access, which has become all the more essential in job and house hunting, to heat in the winter. And now, those resources will no longer be available in DC for one day of the week. But the effects of the Sunday closures are, quite possibly, symptoms of larger problems. For one, does DC have enough public, indoor spaces — which do not require visitors to purchase something if they wish to remain? And how can the city help close the digital divide? Libraries can be one, but they should not be the only answer.

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