Not a day goes by that I see multiple reports about closings, reduced hours or staff layoffs in public libraries. No telling what is happening with budgets for buying new materials which are probably also being severely cut. In good times, the public library is often an anonymous cornerstone of the community and most people only have a casual relationship with their local public library. Most don't have library cards. But our current economic crisis is doubly challenging for public libraries: They are victims of it on the one hand and have to manage their own challenging budgeting issues but they are also become a primary source of help and aid for a burgeoning class of people facing economic hardship.
The librarians job is becoming part social worker, policeman, home care worker and counselor and all in a context of declining resources and a growing sense of desperation that perhaps effective help for many of these patrons is beyond their capabilities. It is a big ask of these library workers and it is also unfair. As today's article in the Times points out, a typical librarian is faced with patrons that can't read or write needing resume assistance and patrons staring blankly at computer screens with no idea what the internet is. The implications of what these librarians face on a daily basis tells us a lot about the abilities of a wide class of people to succeed in an economy that is increasingly beyond their skill level.