Library – noun 1: a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings or films) are kept for use but not for sale. Rockford Public Library director, Mr. Frank Novak, wishes to change this definition. In his vision, a library is not a physical place where you check out books and DVDs, but a website or webserver where you can download digital e-book and audiobook files. His vision, which he presented to the Board of Trustees six months ago, may soon be imposed on us. Novak is proposing the library budget be changed from 35% digital materials to a massive 90%. This would mean the only library materials remaining physical would be children’s picture books and art books. This would imply the disposal of all remaining books! Novak believes that this would be cheaper than simply keeping them, as employees would no longer have to reshelve, find or take care of books. As a book lover, I find this terrifying news to know that hundreds, maybe thousands of books will be discarded or destroyed. This proposal would also mean the closing of all but two branches – the East and Main. Though I live closest to the East branch, I am still against this. I was disappointed about the closing of the Northeast Branch, a place I loved, and was a mere two minutes by car from my house. How many others will be disappointed about the more popular libraries, those closest to them, being closed permanently? And one of the most important problems with this proposal is that a high, high number of the library employees will be laid off, adding to Winnebago’s already high 11.9% unemployment rate. I and my family have relationships with many of the librarians at the East Branch (many of whom worked at the Northeast Branch), and I would be extremely sad to not see them anymore. Part of the experience of going to the library is seeing and talking to the librarians! Both books and e-readers are here to stay. The Kindle alone has become an everyday phrase in many households, even in those that do not own one. Yet, have Frank Novak and the Board considered the 63% of Rockford residents who are low-income? I highly doubt that many, if any of those people will run out and buy a Kindle the moment the library offers more digital titles. More likely, they will stop being library patrons altogether. Many that own Kindles and iPads still prefer to do their reading with a physical book when they can. What of the selection of material? There is a large selection of music available through the library’s Freegal service, which I use frequently, but it only includes music available through Sony record labels. If CDs are disposed of or sold, there will be no way to get to that other music through the library. There are currently no DVDs at all available digitally, and Playaway Videos are simply inadequate. You can’t have family movie night gathered around a 3” by 4” screen. That leaves books. Though I’m sure the OverDrive media collection available to the RPL will be expanded if this proposal passes, there are a massive amount of books simply not available in digital form, especially children’s books. Also, there is a higher amount of, quite frankly, trash books available through OverDrive. If you search for a common name of an author, you will likely be shown “My Fluttering Heart” and “Til I Can’t Breathe” before you find what you were actually looking for – if it’s there at all. Besides, when you are searching for a book in OverDrive, are you really enjoying yourself? Is there an effective way to show a back cover? Is there the joy of finding an unexpected good read? In most cases, the answer is a simple “no.” This, among all other reasons listed, is why I believe we Rockfordians should stand against this proposal. Apparently, many board members are already in favor of it. Please call, email, or even write to these board members, asking them to vote against this proposal. Their contact info, among other information, is available at saveourrockfordlibrary.blogspot.com. Please note that I am not a Luddite or anti-technology person. I have an iPod Touch. I have a laptop. Yes, I have even played Call of Duty on occasion. But to replace books and the library with new technology is unnecessary. We already budget more on digital media than most other libraries do. Must we be the first library in the country to go all digital? If you believe the answer is no, please do all you can to stop it. Sign the petition. Spread the word about it. Call or email the Board. But this must not pass.
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