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ADN on Anchorage libraries (again)

Our view: Library recession

Don’t let Loussac and branches fall out of the 21st century

Published: October 25th, 2009
Anchorage Daily News

The mayor’s proposed 2010 budget envisions contraction for the Anchorage Public Library just when the system is expanding to Mountain View.

What city government can’t do, citizens can. No public institution belongs to all of us more than our library. Let’s keep it growing.

Fewer days, shorter hours. Staff cuts. Fewer materials purchased. And this at a time when our library should be in the forefront of the changes well under way for libraries of the 21st century.

Cuts are coming to a system already on the low end of the high-tech side of modern libraries. An interim report by library consultants found Anchorage, with its 117 computers, well below the basic standard of 140 for a public library in a community the size of Anchorage.

What does that mean?

It means demand exceeds supply, especially at peak-use times — for example, when the Permanent Fund dividend filing deadlines are approaching, or during income-tax season. Library director Karen Keller said users often are limited to an hour. Job applications and resumes can take much longer. So can research, from school projects to car repairs — Keller said exasperated do-it-yourselfers use the library to tap the databases of the Chilton’s or Haynes auto repair publications. This is an example of proprietary information that the library buys for everybody to use.

Cuts also are coming at a time when the library has just started running computer training labs with laptops at the Muldoon branch — a small example of what the library could do with a computer/media lab, where patrons could get training and work on projects, where entrepreneurs might find economical means to build a Web site for a small business.

Such a lab is third on Keller’s wish list for the tech side.

Her first wish?

“Juice up my bandwidth.” Keller said the library could easily to stand to quadruple the available bandwidth so that users wouldn’t have to suffer slow-speed connections that can squander precious time on machines that must be shared.

Her second wish?

“Increase the number of machines.” By the consultants’ numbers, it would take 23 computers — laptop or stationary — to match the basic standard.

Ambitions like these are not grandiose. Ambitions like these merely reflect where healthy, effective libraries are heading. The Knight Foundation has recently announced grants to libraries across the country to provide similar computer and Internet services.

Why? Because what Andrew Carnegie, who endowed hundreds of libraries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, said still applies today:

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”

So where does that leave us in this time of cuts?

The library will have to take its share, but the Assembly should take a close look at the mayor’s proposal and make sure that share has the least effect on library services. And if prospects improve and first quarter budget revisions allow, let’s restore what we can.

Given cuts, the time is right to fortify the Anchorage Library Foundation and Friends of the Library. They do yeoman’s work from collections to summer reading. Check out AnchorageLibraryFoundation.org.

What city government can’t do, citizens can. No public institution belongs to all of us more than our library. Let’s keep it growing.

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t let temporary budget woes do permanent damage to the library.

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