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Libraries are equalizers

At the founding of this country, libraries were recognized as essential to a healthy democracy. In our modern world, libraries are much more.

Lewis Steiner’s 1889 remarks are more true today than ever: “[Libraries] provide a means whereby the rich and poor could live happily side-by-side. The public library was a great leveler, supplying a literature by which the ordinary man could experience some of the pleasures of the rich, and providing a common ground where employer and employee could meet on equal terms.”

According to census reports, 69.4 percent of Buckingham County residents 25 and older have a high school diploma, 13.5 percent have graduated from college and 28.4 percent of children under age 17 live in poverty. Their public library is an integral part of the changes the county is making to combat these issues. 

In rural areas, libraries act as arts centers, universities, community centers and youth centers.

Almost every day, Virginia Children’s Book Festival (VCBF) volunteers meet children who have never owned a book and rely on libraries to find printed reading material. Books are children’s primary educational tool, providing vocabulary, social skills, stimulation and a foundation for success in school and beyond.

There is an undeniable literacy crisis in this country. According to a Pew study, for 16 million children living in poverty, only one in three has a book in the home. More than 30 million adults in the United States struggle with low reading levels and almost 70 percent of people arrested do not possess basic literacy skills, according to a Pew study.

Pew studies prove there is a direct correlation between how well-funded and well-stocked a library is and the literacy rates of its area’s population.

Disinvestment in public libraries costs us dearly by reducing their power to boost literacy levels, which, in turn, puts our population more at risk.

It is our duty to celebrate public libraries and support them, not turn them into satire.

Juanita Giles is the executive director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Her email address is juanita@vachildrensbookfestival.com.