I’ve written before that many teenagers don’t like reading because our society doesn’t value it. What’s happening, of course, is that the rich continue to buy books (from Amazon, now that most independent bookstores have closed, Borders has closed, and Barnes and Noble is near bankruptcy) and read them. Most everyone else isn’t reading.
Much of the rich’s reading, of course, is done in private — in homes and cafes, increasingly on Kindles — far away from libraries, whose funding continues to be slashed.
Here are the numbers, according to the KALW report:
In the 1999/2000 fiscal year, libraries received $56.8 million from the state. That was a good year. By the 2008/2009 year, libraries were only getting $12.9 million. That was a bad year, but, in retrospect, still pretty good. Libraries now get nothing.
Sure, local governments still provide funding, and libraries in some communities — like Berkeley and San Francisco — won’t be affected too much, thanks to generous taxpayers.
But in most places, these cuts mean fewer library programs, fewer librarians, fewer books — and fewer young readers.
It’s possible, of course, that libraries — one of the most important institutions for a democratic society — may soon become extinct in California.
Some people may claim this trend is inevitable in our digital age — that it’s the Internet’s fault. There’s no need for libraries, the argument goes, because everything you need is on the Web.
Those people have not visited a library lately. With its free books, free computers, free literacy classes, free computer classes, and many other free services, libraries are a crucial space.
Many of my students haven’t been to a library for years. When I ask them why, they never tell me that it’d be boring. They have other reasons. One of them is that they haven’t been invited.
As reflected by our state budget cuts, we don’t expect our young people to like the library, so we don’t take them there, and then we blame them for not liking to read.