Public libraries are still vital resources

From early literacy materials for the youngest patrons to special programs, computer training, job search support, and much more, Wisconsin libraries — public, school, academic, and special — are social centers that enrich the daily lives of residents. They welcome all ages to a world of lifelong learning.

The state’s libraries are busy places, serving more than 35 million visitors a year. Libraries play an integral role in supporting students and families, job-seekers, career professionals, seniors, and young adults who can access technology, books, media, and more at libraries. However, at a time when so many citizens are cash-strapped, many Wisconsin libraries have sustained significant budget cuts that have impacted service hours, programs, and resources.

State support for Wisconsin’s 17 regional public library systems was reduced 10 percent in the last budget, placing a strain on the primary support for resource sharing and cooperation. The elimination of the requirement that communities sustain support for their local libraries threatens Wisconsin’s national lead in resource-sharing. Library resource sharing is a common sense way to save taxpayer dollars, but it means communities must all work together or there will be a patchwork of haves and have-nots for library services.

Libraries provide Internet computers to 7.5 million patrons annually. However, insufficient state support for broadband services affects the ability of libraries to effectively access electronic resources and provide robust Internet access to the unemployed, underemployed, or others who rely on their libraries for information and public resources. Libraries need our support so that they can support our residents’ lifelong learning.

This year’s National Library Week theme is “You Belong @ Your Library” and has never been more true. Libraries have been a lifeline in this difficult economy, reaching out to all ages with programs and services to meet local needs. During the April 8 to 14 National Library Week observance, no matter your interest or need, visit your local library. Take advantage of the wonderful resources that are available, and thank our librarians and library staff for making information and education accessible to all.

Tony Evers is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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