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Books, privilege, and how libraries are the only way some children will get to read a bedtime story tonight

Libraries are the Beating Heart of Our Communities

You may be aware, but Amazon is currently in some kind of a negotiation war with the publisher Hachette. There are a variety of  houses and authors who publish and are distributed by Hachette. Amazon has cut any price discounting for Hachette titles, they are delaying shipping, and there is no longer any way to pre-order titles that have an advance publication date.

So in the midst of this, last week several people took to Twitter and urged people to buy their books from a brick and mortar store, an Indie store even if possible. A few hashtags sprang up, I think perhaps #BuyHachette. I even Tweeted several times about this, recommending a few titles here and there.

Then yesterday, an article appeared on Book Riot reminding us all that for some people, a bricks and mortar store isn’t a real possibility. It maintained that if you had a bricks and mortar store in your community, or a car that you could afford to put gas in to drive to one, then you were speaking from a place of privilege. The post then when on to talk about how for many people, Amazon IS the only option to buy books for a variety of reasons.

But if you take it a step further, being able to buy books via the Internet is also coming from a place of privilege as well. In fact, being able to buy books at all means that you are coming from a place of privilege. If at the end of your paycheck you can afford to pay your basic bills, feed your family and buy extra things like books, you have it better than an estimated 20% of the population. Having a computer or device with Internet access in your home, also coming from a place of privilege.
Every time someone tweets about watching Game of Thrones, they are doing so from a place of privilege because that means they can afford cable with HBO even.When we talk about driving our cars, turning on our heat or air, going to the movie theater to see a movie and even going to the grocery store, we are doing so from a place of privilege from someone else’s point of view.
Having books in the home is a huge monetary issue for many people and there are a variety of social activists who work hard to raise funds and try and get books into the homes of families struggling with poverty. Some children will never own a book they can call their own. And if we want to raise a nation of readers and thinkers and innovators, having access to books is a powerful thing. Scholastic has a good discussion about how lack of access to books can be an issue for school readiness.

Which is why we need libraries. It is also why libraries need to do better jobs of reaching out to their local communities and reminding parents about the importance of regular trips to the library, reading together, and having books in the home. It’s why we need things like 1,000 books before Kindergarten. It’s why we need things like every child ready to read. It’s why we need things like YA librarians and youth programming.

My library, like many libraries around our nation, is currently researching how to better reach the needs of our growing homeless population. There are libraries employing social workers and job counselors and writing grants to provide food for children living in poverty this summer who will go without a free school lunch. Libraries help children have access to the Internet, complete homework assignments, and have access to books they would never get to read if their only options was to buy them. Some people don’t have the money to buy books period.

I work part-time. I struggle from paycheck to paycheck to buy groceries. The nearest local bookstore is an hour drive for me. To be completely honest, I don’t buy a lot of books. Not from the bookstore. Not from Amazon. Not online. Mostly, I check my books out from the library. Because every time I choose to buy a book, the money for it comes out of our food budget. It is the only place in the budget that has any wiggle room. Sometimes we make that sacrifice and we eat a few extra peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Usually it is so my kids can have a book they want, not me. Luckily, the Tween wants a lot of the same books that I do. But even knowing this, I know that for many of the patrons I serve, I am still coming from a place of privilege. I buy books more often than they will ever be able to consider buying a book.

So I buy books for the library. Not just the books I want, but the books that my patrons want . . . and need. Because for many of them, that is the only way they will ever get to read a book.

So yes, buy books. Buy them whenever and however you can. Support your local bookstore sometimes if you can. And if you believe in the importance of books and reading, support your local library as well. Libraries matter. For the 1 out of 5 children going to bed hungry each night, libraries are the only way they’ll get to read a bedtime story tonight.


  1. I agree with absolutely everything you're saying here!
    It is SO important to support your local library for both kids, teens, and adults who need reading material. It's not just for fun, or for school: these books provide life skills for all ages! It's so easy for most people to think: “Oh, I'll just go out and buy that” or even “I can get that for my Kindle!” and not even consider the fact that many kids/teens/adults CAN'T do that because they don't have money for books, or ereaders, or any luxuries. This is an important aspect of the digital divide affecting our country and it's not always easy to remember, but we really need to try.

  2. I think this could easily translate into a discussion of library fines. I've been working for the past years on trying to get away from the fines model and I've had some success with read off your fines programs and this year a fine amnesty for kids but there's so much negativity about it – “all they have to do is just return things on time” and the best I can get is some fine relief for younger kids by blaming everything on their parents' irresponsibility. It's frustrating because I've tried to point out that our solidly middle class, traditional family staff can't really comprehend the stresses of poverty – of being a single parent or working multiple jobs or having a disability and then trying to return items on time. Of teens who can't keep track of their library cards or items because they live in two or three different places. Sure, sometimes they are just irresponsible – but I never saw “teach those kids responsibility” on my library's mission or list of goals. I also get a lot of “They'll just check out movies and videogames if you take off their fines”, like these kids shouldn't have the same options available as “good” kids. Or if we forgive a teen's fines and they act up later there's outrage that they weren't properly “grateful”. Ok, breathing deeply and getting off my soapbox now.

  3. Yes, the digital divide. I have had library staff and administrators say people don't even read books anymore because they all use their Kindles. Which is easy to say when you can afford a Laptop/Kindle/Tablet. We have to remember ALL of our patrons, and to think outside of our own worldview/experiences. The digital divide is very real and libraries need to help bridge it. Excellent comment!

  4. Fines can be a sticky wicket indeed. We did read off your fines at my previous library and are going to be doing it this year at my current library. There is a lot of good in read off your fines. I know of some libraries that have no fines and that always fascinates me. But when you are considering kids, they don't have their own transportation and they are very dependent on the adults in their lives to be “good” library users, it does often seem like we are punishing the kids for the behaviors of adults. There is a lot of good food for thought in this comment, thank you.

  5. Thank-you for this post, so much to think about and good to be reminded of how privileged many of us are. I once met a little boy who say they didn't have any crayons in their house so he couldn't finish the picture he had started. That is a tragedy as is a home without access to books. Libraries have so many roles to fulfil, they are the unsung saviours of vast swathes of the community. But we also as individuals can do more and those of us who are lucky enough to be able to afford books should look at ways to share them more and pass them on for free to those less fortunate.

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