By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham Public Library Central Branch on Thursday held a reception to honor the 99 neighborhood associations in the city of Birmingham.
The event drew neighborhood leaders, residents, Mayor William Bell, City Council President Johnathan Austin, council members and librarians.
All spoke of the important role the library plays in the city.
“The first opportunity that I had to set foot in a neighborhood library was after they built the 6th Avenue branch right off Center Street in my neighborhood,” Bell said. “And at the time they built that library we had dirt roads, but the citizens in that area petitioned their city government, they petitioned the library board to pave the streets . . . so the students wouldn’t have to go downtown for the library.”
Bell recalled the first book he checked out of the library: The Five Chinese Brothers.
“In my imagination, I went to Hong Kong by reading that book,” he said. “That’s the power of knowing how to read and we have to make sure that every child has a book in their hand, has an opportunity to dream, has an opportunity to travel places that they’ve never traveled before.”
Austin said the library needs to be modernized.
“I remember coming over here and falling in love with the internet,” he said. “It was on the computers upstairs. The connection was slow, but it was the fastest connection in the city at the time. I’m saying that because it was state of the art. It was a beautiful building in downtown, it was a beacon in this city and it can get back to that.”
Austin said the council increased funding by $2 million for the library in the 2018 FY budget “so we can make all the necessary improvements in this library and in the system.”
“Access to technology is vitally important,” he said. “The internet is like the cave man’s hammer and chisel, you can’t do without it, he couldn’t do without it.”
Councilors Sheila Tyson and Lashunda Scales said they are proud to give thousands of dollars to the libraries in their districts.
“I’m very grateful because as a kid that came out of the ghetto I understand the importance,” Scales said. “I want every librarian to be encouraged today because a lot of our children need hope, a dream, a library.”
Scales said her district was able to get $25,000 in support of the Springville Library.
Tyson, who said grants in the amount of $40,000 have been provided to the Smithfield and Titusville libraries in her district, said she is also proud of the free book programs that are being offered.
Councilor Jay Roberson said the BPL can serve as a resource with the city’s recent national park designation for the Civil Rights Historic District.
“We have to think about as we get national attention with the national park, how can we share the history of the city of Birmingham?” Roberson said. “The BPL – with archives and history – can serve as that source.”
David Herring, president of the Friends Foundation of the Birmingham Public Library, said he was pleased to see numerous city officials, residents and supporters of the library.
“They have given money – it ranges from a few dollars to thousands – and we want to thank them,” Herring said.