Paying Library Dues

ASK avid readers where their lifelong love of books was nurtured and the answer often comes: at the library.

Memories run deep. Some readers remember the day they received their first library card, a ticket transporting them to worlds beyond their own. Others recall the smell of books and paper and glue, the exact pattern of linoleum on the floor, the face and voice of a special librarian. Above all, many remember specific discoveries - a favorite author, a new subject - and the pleasure of being surrounded by so much knowledge and information, free for the borrowing.

This week, as part of National Library Week, the American Library Association hopes to tap memories like these for a useful purpose. Under the theme "Libraries change lives," the association has launched a month-long campaign called "Write for America's Libraries." The organization wants people of all ages to submit a statement of 100 words or less telling how libraries have made a difference in their lives. Winners will receive a trip for two to attend the group's annual conference in New Orleans in Jun e, where they will be honored.

The campaign, which seeks to remind national leaders that libraries need full funding, comes at a time when libraries face a cruel irony. Demand for services stands at a record high, with circulation up 15 percent in 1991 over 1990. But shrinking or flat budgets continue to take serious tolls in staffing, materials, hours, and other resources.

In Fairfax County, Va., funding for the library system was cut by $2.4 million this year. The County of Los Angeles Public Library has closed eight branches as a result of cuts in county funding totaling more than $16 million. Library staff members in Phoenix were asked to take furloughs to maintain the book budget. Essays can confirm the timeless value of libraries. But only adequate funding can ensure Americans' continuing public access to the irresistible power of words on paper.

Note: Participants can deliver essay submissions to libraries or mail them to the American Library Association, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611.

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