Libraries the world over need friends, now more than ever. Free, public libraries embody the ideal of equal opportunity, offering every adult and child the chance to learn, grow, dream and imagine. In our digital age, the access provided in public libraries is invaluable.
“More than ever, libraries are community hubs,” said Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association, in State of America’s Libraries 2013, “and it is the librarian who works to maintain a safe harbor for teens, a point of contact for the elderly, and a place to nurture learning for all.”
David Vinjamuir wrote in Forbes January 16, 2013, that “more than half of young adults and senior citizens living in poverty in the United States use public libraries to access the internet to find work, apply to college, security government benefits and learn about critical medical treatments…for all this public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain.”
The need to support local libraries can come at any moment – when there are proposals to close a branch, reduce a budget or eliminate a service.
Nationally, May 8 has been designated Virtual Library Legislative Day – an opportunity for all library advocates to make their voices heard on a national level. The American Library Association and United for Libraries are leading the way, with information on current issues and opportunities to Tweet your Senator or Representative.
There are state and local Friends groups supporting libraries all over the country. My own Friends of the Library in Montgomery County, MD, sponsors regular Literary Luncheons with current authors at the Mansion at Strathmore and lets members sport “I Love My Library” frames on their license plate.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina thrives because of friends too. In the beginning, Norway gave furniture for the reading halls. A university in Mexico donated CDs. Spain gave the new library a gift of valuable historical reports written in Arabic. Shanghai, China, donated books.
And did you know there are more than three dozen International Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in countries all over the world, including chapters in California, Minnesota, Baltimore, Wisconsin, Florida, New Jersey and New York? Many of these organizations have been around since the Alexandria Library opened in 2002 and continue to donate books, funds for scholarships, software and expertise.
Minnesota Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, whose logo combines the Minnesota loon with the Egyptian lotus, is led by Egyptian scientist and inventor Aida Khalafalla. The Friends organization partners regularly with Books for Africa, an NGO dedicated to “ending the book famine in Africa,” in the belief that “literacy is quite simply the bridge from misery to hope.” Through Minnesota Friends, Books for Africa donates container shipments of books to the library in Alexandria – including one on its way to Egypt now.
Another particularly active chapter in California is led by Rosalie Amer, a former Fulbright librarian at the American University in Cairo and community college librarian and professor in California. She visited the Alexandrian construction site in 1994 and has been back almost every year since, often as a scribe for the International Friends association.
The Bibliotheca Alexandria website says “our friends raise more than money, they raise awareness of the library's value, raise their voices for peace, dialogue, and positive change, raise everyone's hope for a better tomorrow, and raise their hats for our success.” That is the mission of every friend of every library in the world. Won’t you be a library friend too?