Op-Ed: Why the Akron-Summit County Public Library Matters

When my parents first immigrated to the United States, they didn’t speak English. I was three years old and some of my earliest memories include walking to the Barberton Public Library with my mother. Because she couldn’t read to me in English, my mom would check out audio books for children, then sit next to me and listen to the stories. Together, we learned English.

17 years later and in the midst of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English at The University of Akron, I would find myself interviewing for a position at Kenmore Branch of the Akron Summit County Public Library (ASCPL). What followed was two years of me working in the weird and quirky neighborhood of Kenmore.

I loved every second of it. But sometimes, it was hard.

Because of our after school snack program, we often had over 60 kids at a time in our building. Many of these kids would visit us after school and stay until closing time. I have reason to believe that the snack we provided these kids was dinner for many of them.

Mr. Puppet at Kenmore Branch Library. Photo courtesy of Teen Library Amy Stutz.

Aside from food and shelter, our library programs gave them a chance to make friends and interact with us. We offered them advice, homework help, encouragement and sometimes a hug.

But this piece isn’t just about those kids. It’s about all library patrons. Growing up, my parents always made sure we had a working computer and Wi-Fi in our home. But not everyone can afford that, so computer literacy skills are oftentimes rare among low-income communities.

This is where libraries come in. The ASCPL system has 18 branches, all of which offer computer training programs and research databases for school and personal use. Plus, now the Main branch also houses the Microbusiness Center and Techzone, both of which help small business owners expand their business. 3-D printers, laser engravers, green screen video recorders and button makers are just some of the equipment available for use.

In 2015 alone, 2.5 million people visited an ASCPL branch. 4.9 million items were borrowed and 1.5 million people logged into an ASCPL computer.

And the numbers just keep growing.

This is why Bob Dyer’s article, “Is Something Wrong at the Library?” published by The Akron Beacon Journal on June 28 upset me. Dyer manipulated one patron’s opinion of the library to write an anti-library piece, in which he claims that computers were down for six months.

Jungle Bob at Kenmore Branch Library. Photo courtesy of Teen Library Amy Stutz.

This simply isn’t true.

Although we don’t know exactly how long the computers were down, it couldn’t have been longer than four months, since the crash happened in March 2017, and it’s now July and the computers are fixed (ASCPL Marketing Communications Director Carla Davis acknowledges this in Dyer’s article). And although computer catalogs were unavailable, our staff at Kenmore Branch Library made it our first priority to help people with their searches.

Dyer also mentions the lack of air conditioning at the Main branch for nine months. Ohio winters are so long that no one is using an air conditioner for nine months out of the year, so this point is invalid.

Graham Cracker Pudding Parfait program at Kenmore Branch Library. Photo courtesy of Teen Library Amy Stutz.

But what angered me most was Dyer’s poor stab at the money the library is receiving from the 2015 tax levy. He writes, “ . . . today the owner of a $150,000 house is forking over about $90 a year for the 18 locations in the Akron-Summit County Public Library system.” The money from the levy goes back into the community, and Dyer’s attempt to undermine it is sad, at best.

Dyer’s article does nothing to help the Akron community. It discredits an important institution that many rely on for food, shelter, entertainment and technology. And although constructive criticism is necessary to keep our community institutions accountable, Dyer’s article is not constructive. I wouldn’t even call it good criticism.

Noor Hindi is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at The University of Akron. She is usually very nervous. Check her out at nervouspoodlepoetry.com.

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