This past January, as the images from the revolution in Egypt flowed steadily into the U.S. press, one in particular caught my eye.
As the ancient library of Alexandria stood vulnerable to looting and destruction, rows of citizens, many of them students, organized to protect the famed library. They guarded the area with the help of the army and encircled the building, protecting it hand-in-hand.
That is the power that libraries can have and the power that citizens can have to protect them. Here in South Carolina, our libraries have little to fear from looters and thieves. But in this age of declining revenues and unavoidable federal and local budget cuts, there is a great deal we can do to help. We can protect and preserve our libraries with personal philanthropy.
Andrew Carnegie is perhaps the grandfather of philanthropic giving to libraries, spending more than $56 million to build 2,509 libraries. His reasons for supporting libraries resonate strongly today: He believed libraries provided opportunities for anyone who wanted to educate themselves. He felt this was a fundamental quality of American meritocracy and was absolutely essential to support and preserve.
Today, the library continues to provide a space for self-education, building of social capital and access to valuable human and digital resources. Most of us, of course, do not have multimillion dollar fortunes to donate. Smaller donations have just as critical an impact as larger ones. Through annual donations, support of capital campaigns, endowment giving and planned giving, customers can support the library according to their means and areas of interest.
You might be aware that the library system has recently reduced hours of public service at the three largest branch libraries because of increasing staff shortages. This was a necessary adjustment and the new hours were based upon current customer usage patterns while keeping these three branch libraries open 6 days a week. Our new hours are posted at www.beaufortcountylibrary.org.
In an effort to help in areas of greatest need, our four nonprofit support groups continue to put their philanthropic missions into action. Our Public Library Foundation of Beaufort County, whose mission is to build a $10 million dollar endowment fund to support the entire library system, recently awarded $5,000 from its Library Endowment Fund to provide support for Youth Services staff during the seven-week Summer Reading Program starting Monday. This is a perfect example of the power of Endowment Funds -- to bridge the gap when the need is great and keep essential community programs available and vibrant at the library.
The Friends of the Library groups also help provide additional financial support for the library branches to pay for performers, supplies, materials and more.
Donating to the library through these four nonprofit organizations is a way of supporting the community in so many ways. The library serves everyone in the community by providing an array of resources and services and hosting special events.
As we continue to weather the recession, everything is at risk. That's why it is critically important for all library customers to consider supporting the programs that enrich and benefit the community.
Caroline Rothnie interns at the library system's Office of Development & Marketing and serves as the program coordinator for the WeeRead @ the Library Outreach Project for the Public Library Foundation of Beaufort County.