Last month I came before the Homer City Council to highlight the needs of the Homer Public Library. I prefaced my remarks by acknowledging that the lack of current nonfiction books and the void in the library collection was not this council’s doing.
Homer has consistently underfunded our library for decades. When we compare the library collection expenditures from 1987 (when the state of Alaska started collecting data) to the present for Homer, Kenai, Kodiak, Seward and Soldotna, Homer ranks last. Imagine, the average publication date for the adult nonfiction collection is 1992. If these books were people, they’d be able to drink.
I am aware that the economy has been slow to recover. As a result, the library is experiencing unprecedented use. Students need state of the art reference materials and access to study rooms. Patrons require videoconferencing equipment for employment searches as well as Internet access to remain informed.
Services and programming for children continues to grow in popularity. Despite the growing demand for children’s programming, the library has only had a part-time youth services librarian.
Although the library lags behind the five surrounding communities in the area of funding for books, we rank first for the number of volunteers and near the top for total circulation.
The library also enjoys a huge level of support from the Friends of the Library. This group continues to sponsor popular programs such as the summer reading program, the top drawer program and has been instrumental in bringing visiting authors to Homer.
Speaking of authors, our community is home to a number of distinguished writers and poets. It is no accident that Homer hosts an annual writers conference that attracts a national and international audience to celebrate literary pursuits. The library is our primary source of literature.
Many of us were attracted to Homer by its unparalleled beauty and its rich artistic, literary and cultural offerings. We are known as that special place at the end of the road. Realtors and those involved in the hospitality industry proudly promote Homer’s natural beauty, its great fishing and birding and its rich culture. Our library complements this image and remains a source of pride.
A flourishing, modern library that meets 21st century standards is essential for Homer to flourish. Andrew Carnegie recognized the important role that libraries play in providing access to information in their communities. He believed that access to books allowed individuals to “… acquire the knowledge to improve themselves.”
Carnegie was so convinced of this that he helped to fund more than 1,600 libraries across the United States as well as hundreds more beyond our shores. Carnegie’s legacy continues today – the Homer Public Library is our primary source of information here. Sadly, in the area of nonfiction, much of our library’s source materials are obsolete.
The inadequacy of our collection hasn’t gone unnoticed by our community. While the vast majority of the comments in our library’s guestbook are positive, comments such as “beautiful library,” “wonderful librarians,” and “thank you for the Internet” are tempered by comments asking for more materials, including these:
• “Inadequate, outdated book collection.”
• “Why are there no books on the bottom shelves?”
• “Please, more books and videos.”
I understand that the city, like most communities, is being asked to do more. The need to fund public safety is indisputable. The city council is to be commended for its commitment to providing for our safety and well-being.
I would argue that there are “quality of life” issues that also deserve consideration. Homer Public Library patrons also are consumers. We do our grocery shopping here in Homer. We go out to eat here and we welcome both neighbors and visitors alike to our businesses. We do our banking here. We deal with local insurance agents and we swallow hard as we pay the “end of the road penalty” at the pump. As consumers, it’s time to ask our businesses to follow Andrew Carnegie’s lead and support full funding for our library.
For the nearly 1,000 volunteers who have invested time and energy, the library is not a frill, it is not a luxury. Total monthly circulation approximates 10,000 items. The number of visits continues to grow. The library is an integral part of the city that needs to be supported by its residents and by the city council.
It is time to come forward in support of the Homer Public Library. Now is the time to contact your representatives on the council and to let them know that you support the library and ask them to do likewise.
David Groesbeck is the chairperson for the Homer Library Advisory Board. He is a retired school superintendent who was captivated by Homer and moved here about four years ago with his wife. He is an avid fisherman who enjoys plying the waters of Kachemak Bay.