Help The Library That Serves

The James Prendergast is one of my top two favorite libraries in the county, alongside Westfield’s historic Patterson.

As a child, I loved picking out books and reading them in a small orange chair in the tidy, bright children’s room. The Prendergast is where I fell in love with Harriet the Spy and where, in my teens, I learned how to do research on microfilm. Even though I live across the country now, I visit Jamestown’s library numerous times a year: I’ve brought my own children to storytime (one that not only matches — but surpasses — others we’ve attended); if I’m visiting on my mom’s volunteer day, I join her and shelve books; on birthdays or holidays, I’ve donated books in someone’s memory or honor.

I point this out not to pat myself on the back — but just in case you’ve lost sight of how special your city’s library really is.

Could it be that you might not realize what you’ve got — until it’s going…going…gone?

When I read the headline you ran on Jan. 8, Prendergast Library Loses Its Central Library Status, I had the same visceral response I would have were someone to deface a memorial on our National Mall:

How can a community watch the defacing of a crown jewel?

Had I not been following the library’s status, I’d have thought those numbers were a misprint, a hoax, or a joke. Annual funding cuts of 71% and 50%, consecutively? An award of $11,000 in state funding for 2020?

Could there be a greater insult to an historic institution that has done its darndest to roll with the punches, change with the times?

I live three blocks from my own urban library in Arvada, Colo. When it comes to our county library system, I’ve been what you’d call a heavy user for the past 19 years. And just like Prendergast, I’ve watched as my library — and its staff and its patrons — embrace change. Like it or not.

Walking into Prendergast today feels different than it used to, sure. Gone are the elegant paintings, the hushed tones, the long wooden tables with their green-shaded lamps; some days it feels like a video store — or a bus stop — has usurped our memories of a reading room. Libraries, in general feel less ‘sacred,’ more ‘secular.’

These are cultural changes. Community shifts. And they’re happening everywhere.

Urban libraries and librarians, nationwide, are heroically taking on the roles of after school care, early childhood literacy, employment and career services, homeless and transitional shelters, tutoring centers, eldercare, social work, and more.

They’re doing all of this and still providing circulation and reference services; hardcopy and digital holdings of bestsellers, classics, research material, and periodicals; enrichment for ages infant to adult; 3D printing; electronic equipment loans; cultural day passses; computer classes; free meeting rooms; resources for the visually impaired.

And that’s just half of what they do.

One glance at that list and I know the library loans my family literally thousands of dollars in materials each year. For somewhere in the ballpark of $20 in annual taxes, I’d say the library is the biggest bargain going.

So to young families, ‘old money,’ folks seeking jobs, to anyone who can’t afford their own internet bill, to retirees with a passion for reading, curious minds of all ages and faces, young children, disabled adults, students writing reports and searching for college scholarship forms, I ask: how can voters help the James Prendergast Library keep on serving you?

Carolyn Seymour Thomas is a resident of Arvada, Colo.