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May 11, 2010

Op-Ed: Send a Postcard to Support NYC Libraries

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Christian Zabriskie is a young-adult librarian at Queens Library in New York City.

Over the last decade, libraries have been quietly leading the revolution of wider acceptance for graphic novels. The inclusion of graphics in libraries, indeed the avid development of extensive collections and their promotion by these “temples of learning” have gone a long way to the increasing inclusion of graphics in the established cannon of high art and literature in our society. Yes, graphics have also been embraced by the education and academic communities, but their efforts have been aided by this inclusion into the repositories of culture. Moreover, library graphic collections provide a key service to graphic readership. In large libraries, the collection is so huge that it can provide fans with titles they have never encountered, let them read interesting but marginal books without investing in them, and get you through times when you don’t have the cash to get new books. 

Now libraries are in trouble, real trouble. Here in New York City, the three library systems that cover the five boroughs are facing devastating cuts in this year’s budget. The cuts would close the doors on dozens of libraries across the city and layoff over 1,600 library staff. Budget cuts over the last three years have worn libraries down to the bone. Libraries are very good at doing a lot with not very much, so it may not  be too noticeable, but staffing is tight, budgets are thin, and people are scrambling to keep providing citizens with the services they need and deserve. For the typical librarian mindset, think silver-age Captain America with Oracle’s research skills and Green Arrow’s social justice priorities (but not his bank account). 

There is an activism effort in the city that is mounting a retroactivism attack on the problem. In an age of cyber petitions, they are going back to ink and paper sent through the mail. They ask that people send postcards in support of libraries to a friend of the movement on the city council. Any postcard will do. They are ten for a dollar in Times Square, get them at yard sales, make them yourself. Write something witty, draw a picture, tell them that the library means something to you and that you care about how it fares in the budget fight. Everyone is to send them in to the same guy, council member Jimmy Van Bramer (a longtime supporter of libraries). His office will collect them all and then pass them on en masse to the city council in what will hopefully be a scene reminiscent of the end of A Miracle on 34th Street.
 
The address:
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
47-01 Queens Blvd, Suite 205
Sunnyside, NY 11104

Yes, it is more work to do this than it is to click on an e-petition, but it will also have a lot more weight. If one postcard has more impact than 20 e-signatures, then imagine the strength of a hundred postcards, or that of thousands of them. Once you have sent in your card, hit up your family, get your kids to write one, ask your friends and people that you work with. If people ask you out on a date, make them fill out a postcard! And use filling out a postcard as an excuse to ask someone out on a date. Anything that you can think of is great, and you can send in your cards in bulk in big envelopes if you and your personal cadre of heroes get inspired. 

Librarians are superheroes, you see. They have advanced training, they hone their skills daily in the pursuit of the public good, they have huge databases and treasures of resources backing them up, and they spend their days sitting and waiting for someone, anyone, who needs them. When faced with a problem, they hurl their training, experience, energy, and passion into answering that question or need, they hand over the answer for free, send John or Jane Q. Public on their way, and wait for the next problem to come along. If that isn’t superheroic, what is? Librarians work as the public’s quiet servants, and now they need you to be their cacophonous heroes and raise your voices with theirs. 

That address again:

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
47-01 Queens Blvd, Suite 205
Sunnyside, NY 11104