On Sharing My Voice: The Value of My Public Library

Guest blog by Crystal Schimpf, Librarian and Founder/Principal Training Consultant at Kixal

I spoke at my city council meeting for the first time. I spoke in support of the public library, and the value it brings to our community. I’m not sure why I had never shared my voice in this way, but I didn’t realize how easy it would be (or how good I would feel having done it).

I am an MLIS degreed librarian, and I have experience working in and for public libraries for over 10 years. I now work as a library consultant, and I travel to a number of libraries each year. I’ve seen libraries go through seriously hard times with budget cuts, staffing limits, deferred maintenance, and technology old enough to be in a museum. Through all of this, it never occurred to me that I could help (at least in my own community). I never had the courage to get up and speak about the importance of my local library, or to speak in front of a city council or other legislative body. I’ve never been one to write letters to my senators to voice my support or concern. But this year I realized how important it is for me to speak up. As a citizen, it is my right and privilege to speak up about the value of the library, what it means to me, and how much I support it. As a librarian, I am in a position to speak about the true value of libraries.

Last year I moved to a new city: Pleasant Hill, a suburban town of 34,000 in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. I started to get to know the library (the Pleasant Hill Library), and even met the library manager (Patrick Remer, a rockstar librarian who is truly admired in the community). I soon learned that this library has an amazing offering of programs and storytimes, and that there is an incredible staff of dedicated librarians and library assistants. But I also learned that the library building is 55 years and in a sad state of disrepair. It lacks the flexible space and infrastructure to meet the programming and technology needs of a modern public library. Fortunately, I learned the city is exploring the need for a new library, including the possibility of putting a revenue measure for a sales tax increase on the November ballot. I decided to get involved as a volunteer (and now a board member) with the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library so I could join that effort.

This is what brought me to speaking at the city council meeting. In order to put the revenue measure on the ballot, the city council would vote to approve it. As elected officials, it is part of their duty to serve the community and to hear (and take into account) public comment. This was an opportunity for me to present my perspective on the need for a new library, and most importantly my support of the sales tax increase.

I didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I had never even attended a city council meeting anywhere (so my understanding of the process mostly came from the TV show Parks and Recreation). But it was very easy. I showed up to the meeting and picked up a copy of the agenda and a public comment card. I filled out the card with my information, and indicated what item on the agenda I would like to comment on (they also had a time for open comment on any issue, not only those on the agenda). Then I took a seat and the meeting started. I was in good company – the room was full of library supporters, and we were joined by a local Boy Scout troop earning a merit badge. When it came time for the discussion on the revenue measure, the city first presented some information. More than a dozen people spoke in favor of the measure, many of whom indicated their support for the library. We each had three minutes, and I observed a convention of formality when taking the floor (Thank you Madame Mayor, City Council…).

When it came time for me to speak, I got quite nervous, despite my experience with public speaking. (Whenever I get nervous, I remind myself it must be something I really care about.) I had prepared some notes in advance, and chose to focus on my world view that libraries are essential to every community as a place to learn, gather, and grow. In order to do that, libraries need adequate space and technology. When some people think of a modern 21st century library, they might think of something futuristic, extravagant, or high-tech. But in actuality a modern library is the library of “right now” – the library of our present time. Pleasant Hill deserves to have a library with the flexible space and technology to meet modern needs. When I was finished speaking, I was so glad that I had the courage to be part of the process.

The resolution to place a sales tax revenue measure on the November ballot was approved unanimously from the Pleasant Hill City Council. Now I will serve as a volunteer on the campaign committee, and will continue to be involved with the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library. Most importantly, I’ll be watching for my next opportunity to speak up at a council meeting, write a letter to my senators, or call my representative. I’ve learned so much about legislative and political processes through this experience. I am part of the process, and you are too. We do have a voice in the political process, and I hope you’ll join me in sharing your voice. Together, we can speak up about the importance of public libraries in each and every community, everywhere. For more information and resources to help you take action for local libraries everywhere, please visit action.everylibrary.org.

 

Feel compelled to speak up and out in defense of libraries? Visit votelibraries.org/views-and-voices to share your experience and voice your views.