It’s political: Library cards

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Here's a simple way for you to help spread the ideas of an author you respect, and be a political activist at the same time: use your library card.

(If you don't have a card, it's free at your public library and fairly easy to get.)

Maybe the book is a classic, such as Capital by Karl Marx, or Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.  Perhaps it's something new, such as The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz or the latest Matt Taibbi barn-burner.

It's possible that you already have copies of those titles either as a print copy or on one of your devices, or, in the case of Marx's work, know that you can find a free copy of the original online.

But are the books you consider leftist essentials available on the shelves of your local public library?

Many library catalogs can be searched online, so you can tell if the book is in the collection. 

Excellent news: you've checked and a collection of essays by your favorite writer, Barbara Ehrenreich, is listed as being on the shelf.

Here's hoping the book's in good condition, it's been checked out lately, and that it's not out of print.  A library tries not to carry too much dead weight on its shelves, so it weeds many low- and zero checked-out books that meet its criteria for withdrawal.  Also, every day books end up permanently checked-out (lost), missing, or damaged.  

Make yourself an advocate for your books.  Do the same with your reading club.  Ask your library to replace wrecked or missing books, ask them to add new titles, then check them out, and ask members of your reading group to do the same.

A number of public libraries offer ebook downloads that are as free as their shelf copies, so if you're a device owner who's able to use this service, make sure you're requesting those titles in an ebook format.  Teen and college-aged readers often are into ebooks, so this helps them out.

If the library doesn't add the titles you asked for, it may be that the book is out of print or isn't stocked by the major bookseller the library is required to use. 

So, while it's a good idea to follow up with your librarian as to why the book is still not on the shelf, don't assume it's absent because of bias.  They may not have much of a book budget.

When you make your book requests to your local library, whether you do it in person or online, be kind and don't overwhelm them with too many requests at once.  Space it out.

You can't guarantee that a library user who reads a copy of your favorite political book is going to agree with the author or with you-but you've helped make sure that readers have free access to your book.

I attended a tiny rural high school that had an almost closet-sized library, but it did receive regular visits from the county bookmobile.  Public libraries still strive to bring books to the poor and elderly, despite budget cuts.

Many cities have public libraries within walking distance of public transport, but unfortunately, city budget cuts tend to result in less opening hours for this vital service.

If your local library happens to be a victim of government so-called "cost-cutters", consider taking part in campaigns to protect the keeper of your books and joining groups that support your library. 

Not everyone has the space, money, and devices for a book collection that fits their needs.  Not everyone has free access to the facts they need to better interpret the economic reality facing them.

There's a type of activism that takes place not at a large political rally, but in the quiet filling out of a request form at your local library.  You'll never know if your act impacts the life of a rural teen, a money-pressed college student, or someone else who strolls down a certain aisle.

You'll never know who you help, but based on my experience, it makes a powerful difference.

Photo: Wikipedia (CC)

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  • Excellent advice! My wife is a retired librarian. She has worked in both public and college libraries. It always bothered her when classics like those mentioned above were never taken out. That meant when it came time to weed the shelves to make room for new acquisitions, it would be hard to justify keeping a book that no one seemed interested in reading. So... go to you library and take out books, new and old, by progressive authors even if you own them or have already read them. It will help keep them on the shelves. And be sure to request the library purchase new books by the authors you admire. Many public libraries try to fill their patrons requests.

    I became a Marxist because I discovered PA on the periodicals shelf.

    Posted by Rev. Paul F. White, 06/26/2014 9:23am (5 months ago)

  • Thanks for this article, Kelly. I am a retired children's librarian myself and I use my public library all the time, but in these days of local budget shortages, the library often gets short shrift behind the police, fire department and garbage collection! Branches are closing and library hours cut back. Yet many people (and especially children and youth )can't afford to buy all the books they would like to read.

    A book that circulates often, or is requested often (and nowadays you can request or "reserve" a book online for free from most libraries) is definitely more likely to remain on the shelves, where the library borrower has free access to it.

    Posted by Gail Ryall, 06/25/2014 7:11pm (5 months ago)

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