Bipartisanship, Thy Name Is Libraries

December 15, 2010

There was a bit of a holiday-season miracle over the past week: the bipartisan passage by consent of the Museum and Library Services Act in both the House and Senate. The MLSA is now on its way to President Obama’s desk for his anticipated signature, to the delight of the library community, which can rest assured that the bill’s approval secures level LSTA funding. We all know there’s a need for much more fiscal support, but that’s beside the immediate point.

The fact that Democrats and Republicans approved this measure so readily speaks to how powerfully the library-advocacy message resonates regardless of one’s political or philosophical leanings. It’s the one institution that exists to serve everyone. Simple as that.

Of course, that message is just as powerful at the local level but the money hasn’t been as ready in thousands of communities across the United States in the past few years, as we’re all too aware. Still, there are glimmers of bipartisanship to be found: After hearing quite clearly from their constituencies, Republicans in the Erie County (N.Y.) Legislature sided with their Democratic colleagues and against local Republican leader and Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who had proposed that the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library take a $4-million budget cut. The library got $3 million restored.

It’s an undeniable reality that public, academic, and school libraries’ fight to remain solvent will continue for the foreseeable future. But keep your eyes open for savvy allies to join the fray as the importance of libraries becomes personal for them.

In well-heeled Beverly Hills, California, a Hollywood writer and marketing entrepreneur named Simon Gornick observed his 2nd-grade daughter peacefully doing her homework in her underfunded school library and got an idea. The result was the November launch of the School Library Exchange, a free online clearinghouse where individuals can post their school libraries’ collection-development wish lists for potential donors to see—and act upon, hopefully. (As of today, 170 school libraries in the U.S. and elsewhere have registered.)

Gornick, who got website advice from Beverly Hills High School librarian Karen Boyarsky, is a quick study. He is already educating visitors to the irony that “at a time when even Arne Duncan, Secretary for Education, says U.S. students are being ‘out-educated’ by our international competition, that on the state and district level, school libraries nationwide are experiencing massive budget cuts.” His long-term goal: “By raising awareness of the issue, we can help policymakers think again before signing off on cuts that really short change our kids—at the worst possible time, for them, their families, and the nation at large.”

What’s in it for Gornick, besides trying to spark more love for the printed word? His website participates in Amazon’s Associate program, so purchases made through the SLE link earn the nonprofit several percent of the price paid, with no extra expense to the buyer.

Ever the entrepreneur, Gornick says that “over time we’d like to see publishers and corporations get involved,” adding that  “companies realize there’s something human and tangible about giving books.”

In the spirit of bipartisanship and consciousness-raising, rock on.