CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is an old English idiom that speaks to the Kanawha County Public Library system as it currently struggles to persevere, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good."
What lies at the heart of a community, sustaining it and giving it its vibrancy? One might begin with its citizens, young and old alike, a broad ethnic mix. Add to this community collage an assortment of churches, synagogues, mosques and other halls of worship; merchants; hospitals; utility providers; entertainment venues; schools; jurisdictional bodies of governance, dwellings and so on. Each of these entities adds to the vitality of the community by nurturing a synergy that gives life to the community.
Standing prominently at our communal crossroads is the Kanawha County Public Library. It's branches and the mobile library provide free access to an inviting environment of books, audio books, e-books and other materials available to adults and children. The library is an immeasurable repository of knowledge and entertainment linking us to the past, the present and the future. For many it is a comfortable gathering place that opens up a world of information that nurtures academics and learning critical thinking skills, as well as stimulating the imagination. In short, the library holds such a commanding presence that without it, the community suffers a significant void.
Such is the threat currently facing the KCPL system stemming from the recent state Supreme Court decision in favor of Kanawha County School's request to deny further financial subsidies to the library to the tune of almost $3 million, or approximately 40 percent of the library's annual operating budget. This subsidy, established by state law, has been in place since 1957 and has become an integral part of the library's operating dependency.
Coming on the heels of the court's decision, evidence of austerity has already begun with Sunday closings of the library and the library's withdrawal from the West Virginia Book Festival held each year at the Charleston Civic Center. Additional cutbacks are being considered, such as an overall reduction in library professional and non-professional staff, reduction in work hours and a reduction in the purchase of books and other materials.
A reference was recently made that the library's dependence upon this annual subsidy from Kanawha County Schools is "parasitic." A parasite sustains life by living off another, or host. The irony of this is that a library can easily be characterized as a "giver of life," providing practically limitless information free to the community it serves.
I would be remiss not to mention the many pleasures my wife and I have enjoyed over the years observing with interest the love and appreciation our daughters have held for the printed word. To this day, they are voracious readers, attributing much of their insatiable appetite for reading with visits to the library as young children. My wife, a retired teacher, would often walk her third grade class from Piedmont Elementary to the library and bask in their excitement as they painstakingly chose their allotment of books to bring home. A brief stop at the Peanut Shoppe following the library visit was, of course, mandatory, too. Books create their own form of serotonin, and if that interest in reading is cultivated in a child at a young age, it will remain steadfast throughout their years.
I recently had the distinct privilege of having a professional staff employee from the library's Main Branch share their personal thoughts regarding the wide range of services offered at that location. I am certain these services are provided to some degree by the other branches, as well. She said:
"Each day, professional librarians in Kanawha County find the answers to hundreds of questions asked by patrons. Questions about city, county or state records; statistical information; legal issues and much, much more. Many of these questions come from Kanawha County, but they also come from around the globe. Reference librarians at the Main Library in Charleston have recently helped a person in Greece."
Gossard, of Charleston, is a retired supply-chain manager with Union Carbide.