The author, of Omaha, is president of ReferenceUSA, a division of InfoUSA, and president-elect of United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.
I am sure I stand with the majority of Nebraskans who view their public libraries as touchstones that transform communities through education and lifelong learning. A new bill under discussion by the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee may threaten that.
As a resident of Nebraska and a library advocate, I fear that Legislative Bill 969 would hinder the ability of public libraries in Nebraska to fulfill their role as community institutions.
Under this proposal, local oversight of Omaha’s metropolitan-class public library would be passed on to the City Council. In addition, smaller cities and towns would be required to change their library boards from independent governing bodies to those serving only at an advisory level.
The ability of a library board to act free of political influence is imperative in maintaining the local public library as a trusted community institution, one that provides information without discrimination. Libraries and their independent boards work diligently to protect the rights of confidentiality, privacy and the freedom to read.
Under LB 969, the city or town council would oversee public library budgets, which would impact public library collections, programs, and resources. Since city and town councils do not have direct interaction with library patrons, how can they possibly know what programs and services would best benefit the community?
For example, staff at the Omaha Public Libraries recognized the dire need for bilingual materials and resources in response to the community’s uptick in new Americans. Thanks to the library’s “English Language Learning Bag” program, non-English speakers now have access to tailored educational resources. Newcomers of all ages have an invaluable tool that will pave the way to learning English, becoming citizens and productive members of the community.
Programs such as these have enabled Nebraska public libraries to be among the best in the nation.
Nebraska public libraries have been awarded Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grants for computers. Our public libraries developed and continue to host “Big Talk from Small Libraries,” a live webcast that has become a premier learning opportunity for libraries across the state and country and even receives international participation.
Just recently, Nebraska’s libraries received a grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the American Library Association to host “Smart Investing @ Your Library Builds Nebraska Communities” across the state.
Nebraska libraries serve their communities well, bringing national and international recognition to our great state.
It’s not just luck that got us to this place. I believe that Nebraska libraries thrive and continue to be a model for libraries around the nation because the governing boards of our libraries are mission-driven and stand apart from any political influence. Our governing boards are of the people and for the people: They allow our public libraries to remain directly responsible to the communities they serve and immune to the political whims of city government.
Given that our libraries have national recognition, especially as exemplary rural service providers, it seems unnecessary and even detrimental to consider changing their governing structure.
I encourage all Nebraskans to keep our public libraries strong by supporting library board control of our libraries. Tell lawmakers to reject Legislative Bill 969 so that local public libraries can continue their fine work of public service.
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An earlier version of this opinion piece incorrectly identified the writer as living in Papillion.