Chronic Library Users

Testimony to the County Council
Montgomery County, Maryland

by Paulette Dickerson

Montgomery County Library Board

Operating Budget Public Hearing 10 April 2001

Hello, my name is Paulette Dickerson, I live in Silver Spring, Md. I am a Library Board member and I am a chronic library user. Over my lifetime, I've spent thousands of dollars on fines and lost books. And that doesn't count the books that I bought for myself in seedy, out of the way bookstores. My husband is also a heavy user; the first conversation we ever had was about books. I turned my own children on to books, too. Merle became a regular user at two, Robin at three and Gray at seven. Merle at eighteen is an LAC chairman, pushing books himself. Gray started late but she's passed both her brothers in fines paid and, sadly, in books lost because her "circulation figures" are higher than both of her brothers combined.

Isn't it nice that habitual behavior patterns can include things that are good for you--because people can become addicted to reading and learning. Reading can become a lifelong habit, for information and for entertainment; learning can co-opt all of your free time. But, as with all habitual behaviors, it's best to start them while you're young. If you are born into a home where reading is almost as ubiquitous as breathing, then you will be surrounded by books all your life. It is natural to you and effortless to maintain.

Since most people are not lucky enough to be born in such a place we as a society must create that place for them. We do it by having public access to knowledge. We do it by supporting public institutions like the school system and the library. That is why I am here today.

There have been a lot of articles about the "digital divide"; well it turns out that divide is not just digital--it is economic and social. It turns out that the same people who do without computers, do without child care, without free time, without cars and sometimes without decent housing. They also do without books as do their children, because they cannot read effectively and do not have a chance to learn how.

People like me can cruise the web from home, look for books in any form we like, pay for them if they cost money and absorb the information like plants absorb the sunlight. We use the library but we don't need the library. So how can we keep the readers reading and get the nonreaders started? By increasing every opportunity for us and them to use the library system. How to do that? I'm glad you asked. By increasing access to libraries. Increased access means increased technology and increased tech support in the Public Libraries. This doesn't necessarily mean more money. It means better use of current resources and a different kind of planning for the future. Library automation, used efficiently can allow for expanded service hours without expanding staff costs. Included in my packet is a floppy disc containing information about one such library--the Ironwood Branch of the Richmond Public Library system in Canada.

Increased access means more reasons to go to the library besides "just books". Library programs can reach parts of the community that do not regularly use books. Literacy, preschool, and children's programs, music, author talks and community forums can pull in nonusers and some of them may eventually come back for the books. On that same floppy disc, but also as a paper attachment is an article from the New York Times about the Queens Public Library system and the wide range of programs they do.

Increased access means maintaining a continuous program to develop, renovate and expand the library buildings we already have to make sure they can serve our communities well but it also means looking at growth patterns within the county and planning for new or expanded building programs when they seem appropriate. New libraries in Rockville, Germantown, and Silver Spring plus renovations, large and small at Bethesda, Gaithersburg and Olney are currently needs that the Board supports, but I'm sure there are others. There is a file on the disc I gave you of an NPR program about using libraries to jump start urban renewal.

Increased access means expanded service hours. An area where expanded hours would do great good is service to preschoolers and caregivers--for this, morning hours seem best and are on the wish list for Damascus, Germantown and Potomac Libraries among others. It means Sunday service, expanded Sunday hours, Sunday service at more branches, Sunday service year-round. This expansion would mean that those whose Sabbath is Saturday would have a weekend day to use the resources at the library. There are large communities in Montgomery County of Seventh Day Adventists--Silver Spring is their world headquarters, and of observant Jews and Moslems. Year round service at Wheaton, White Oak, Silver Spring and Olney might be a great start at better serving those communities. Let's not forget that most kids do Monday's homework on Sunday night, a problem that seems to cross ethnic and religious lines.

All of these actions would make using the libraries easier for the citizens of Montgomery County and would make it possible to turn ordinary people into chronic library users.

Henry Ward Beecher said, "A home without books is like a house without windows." For those without means, the public library is their window to the world.

Thank you.


On the floppy disc given to County Council members:



Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
pdickerson(at)hers.com
http://librariesfriend.com
Private Citizen / Library Advocate
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Send comments or suggestions to:
E-Mail: "pdickerson (at) hers.com"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

Home Page: http://librariesfriend.com/