Our library is important to our community. How we support it is a measure of the value we place upon education and our citizen's access to information critical to a democratic society.
Of the 22 employees at the Decatur Public Library, all, save one, are female. Nationwide, America pays its women about 70 percent of what it pays men for similar work. Decatur and Morgan County go the nation one better by paying its library employees only about 60 percent of the wages it pays city employees in similar positions.
At top-level positions in the library, the disparity is even greater. And these folks are well qualified by education and training. Eleven of them have bachelor's or master's degrees; nine have some college and two are high school graduates.
When informed of the comparative level of pay between city and library employees, one Decatur City Councilman stated that the library workers knew what they were getting when they took their jobs.
In its published standards, the Alabama Public Library Service suggests a minimum of $6.50 per capita for public library support. In 2011, our library received $4.83 per capita from Decatur and Morgan County, 25 percent below the state suggested minimum.
The average per capita funding received by all Alabama public libraries in 2011 was $20.16, more than 400 percent what our library received. Seventy-six percent of all public libraries in Alabama received more per capita income in 2011 than did our library.
This information is available from Stephanie Taylor, Alabama state data coordinator of Alabama Public Libraries.
The problematic level of government funding for the Decatur Public Library also can be seen in the library's physical condition. Since April 2011, the HVAC system in the library has been malfunctioning and has degraded to such a degree that it has become potentially hazardous for employees and library patrons. Fortunately, the city has at last contracted to replace the system, with work to begin in December.
Two years after the city administration was notified of a floor-to-ceiling crack in the west wall of the children's section of the library, it is still not repaired.
This room is used by the children's librarian for story hour, and the children have to be seated away from the area of the crack because of the danger of falling ceiling tiles.
Although some local government officials have been supportive of the library, one elected city official suggested that the library was a dying institution.
An elected county official likened the library to a dinosaur, suggesting that the institution is on the road to extinction. The city official suggested that since everyone had a computer and access to the Internet, the library was becoming unnecessary.
If that person visited the library, he would note that the 25 computer terminals at the library are almost always fully occupied by people searching for jobs, doing research for educational assignments and a host of other uses.
While times have changed, the Decatur Public Library has worked to keep up with those changes. From 2001 to 2011, attendance at the library increased by 10 percent. Although book circulation declined slightly from 2001-11, computer use has increased sixfold during that same period, reaching 60,000 visits in 2011.
The library now provides access to electronic books, and since its introduction at our library, this service has seen a dramatic increase in usage.
Our library is a storehouse of the wisdom and knowledge passed on to us by our ancestors as a reference in our search for what is good, beautiful and true. Libraries have been a beacon of civilization for more than 3,600 years. We can declare that we support education, learning, and a well-informed citizenry. But the adage "actions speak louder than words" holds true. We support what we value, and by that standard, when it comes to our library, we are found wanting.
Wayne Holliday of Decatur is a member of the board of the Friends of the Decatur Public Library, a volunteer organization that raises funds to help the library by buying books, computers, computer programs and other items. He can be reached at wayne. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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