Opinion: Berkeley takes a back seat for libraries

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They say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

For a family member temporarily based in Bay-area California, that hit home when plans for a relaxing afternoon at the library were foiled by locked doors. Not open Sundays. Minimal after-work hours.

We have it so much better here.

You’d think the high-priced Oakland/Berkeley area — home to that prestigious campus where reading should be a premium — would have amazing libraries. At the very least, they should have amazingly accessible libraries. Especially given the public’s increasing — that’s right, increasing — reliance on them.

Yet of four public library branches in Berkeley, population 121,000, only one is open Sunday. Of a whopping 16 non-specialty (more, if you count those) public library branches in Oakland, population 420,000, only one is open Sunday. Worse, two of those Oakland branches aren’t open Saturday, either.

Yet in little ol’ Hayden and Post Falls — populations top 14,000 and 31,000 respectively — our libraries are open Saturday and Sunday, weekdays until 8 p.m. Same with Coeur d’Alene (different library network). Why the population counts? Libraries are funded by tax dollars. Somehow, ours do more with less. Maybe that’s why our Community Library Network was ranked best in the state.

Let me pause this commercial for a few stats from Pew Research.

Who uses libraries the most may surprise you: It’s Millennials. A 2017 Pew survey showed 53 percent of 18-to-35s say they used a (non-academic) public library in the previous 12 months. Compare that with Gen Xers (45 percent), Boomers (43), and older (36 percent).

That goes beyond e-books (now with more readership than paper) and free internet. Modern libraries have become community gathering centers (free meeting space, after-school programs, family and specialty activities); a resource for job-seekers (computers, software, resume help); kids story hours and learning programs (you can check out educational toys, too); and STEM education (little robots and 3D printers).

And, as always, a safe respite from a frenetic world.

The library website, a top focus for Millennials, links to a number of databases, such as business, health, ancestry, news, even DIY. Which brings me to that increased reliance. Americans struggle to discern reliable information, especially online with its plethora of dubious, limited, or biased sources; so more are turning to local libraries and librarians, because we trust them.

“You can get all sides of the story here,” said Anne Abrams, CLN’s communications director. “Reliable publishers are a hallmark of libraries, as opposed to websites, which anyone can put up.

“We have collections of reliable, factual information, but it’s up to the individual to determine what’s true and what’s not.”

Pew Research reports a growing number of people believe librarians can help them avoid fake news. A large majority of Millennials (87 percent), as well as Boomers (74 percent), say the library helps them find information which is trustworthy and reliable. More than half of all surveyed said libraries aid their decisions.

Without trying to influence them — a rarer commodity these days.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email: sholeh@cdapress.com

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