NYT: Literary legend Ray Bradbury fights for local libraries

With all the debate in town about preserving our elementary school libraries, I couldn’t help but note this story on the front page of today’s New York Times about sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury’s crusade to preserve public libraries in his home, Ventura County, California.

Though the article is about preserving public libraries, rather than school libraries, it touches on many of the same issues that have come home to roost here in Belmont: falling property taxes that have historically been the lifespring of public libraries and the growth of the Internet as a source of information. Communities across the Bay State (including Belmont) are cutting funding to libraries, which have been forced to reduce hour. Some also question the value that public libraries provide. This despite figures that show library use is booming during this recession, as out of work employees queue up for access to computers and families look for an inexpensive source of books, movies and  other programming.

Bradbury is a lifelong advocate of public libraries. His most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel about a furture, authoritarian society where books and reading are banned. He wrote it on a pay typewriter in the basement of the UCLA library.

“Libraries raised me,” he’s quoted saying.  “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Here in Belmont, the issue of funding for library aides that keep our elementary school libraries functioning will be debated at a meeting of School Committee on Tuesday evening. But that debate is just a warm up to what the town will face in the fall, once planning starts for Fiscal Year 2011, with funding for both the town library and school libraries likely to be a point of contention.