Authors who get public libraries

I originally planned a short note pointing to a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (and available on SFGate): “‘Free for All’ explores libraries’ value“–about filmmakers who are working on a documentary called “Free For All,”

exploring why Americans are using public libraries in record numbers and what would happen to democracy if libraries became extinct.

It’s a good story, well worth reading.
And as I was checking email before putting up that link, I ran into this: “A Personal History of Libraries” by John Scalzi at Whatever–a clear, eloquent story of how Scalzi grew up with libraries and (although he doesn’t use public libraries as much these days) what they mean to him. A key paragraph:

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete  My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Oh, and a key description of how Scalzi sees the public library (his current one is small–the town has about 1,800 residents):

A focal point and center of gravity for the community — a place where a community knows it is a community, in point of fact, and not just a collection of houses and streets.

You will not be surprised to hear that Scalzi was inspired to write that post based on that horrible piece by a UK author who really should know better.

I couldn’t resist looking up Scalzi’s local library. It serves more people than Scalzi’s “1,800” estimate (the FY10 LSA is 3,168), but it’s still a small library–and a well-used one: 19.3 circulation per capita, nearly two reference transactions per capita, decent but not great funding ($46.88 per capita), almost five patron visits per capita–and pretty good hours for a small library, open 1,716 hours in FY10. (PC use is also strong, 1.64 per capita; program attendance is 0.7 per capita, which is also a strong number.)

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