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Originally published July 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Page modified July 21, 2012 at 8:55 PM

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Vote yes on Seattle Proposition 1 to support libraries

Libraries are many things to many people. They are too important to allow them to languish. Support them by voting yes on Seattle Proposition 1 on the Aug. 7 ballot.

Special to The Times

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It's no exaggeration to say that a library saved my life. As a child seeking refuge from a difficult family, I found solace at the Parkman Branch Library in Detroit, thanks to a children's librarian named Miss Frances Whitehead. Through the books she shared with me, and the kindness she showed, she opened my world well beyond the world that I knew.

By the time I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up, so that I could do for other people what Miss Whitehead did for me: Inspire them with books that would feed their souls, help them satisfy their curiosity about whatever interested them and make the world a better place.

Libraries are many things to many people. They are too important to allow them to languish.

You have the opportunity to support this work by voting yes on Aug. 7 for Seattle Proposition 1, a seven-year $123 million property-tax levy to fund our city's libraries.

Every day, librarians find books for people who are simply looking for something good to read, or need a book on a particular topic, such as raising tropical fish, fixing their 1998 Toyota Camry or learning to accept their own sexual orientation.

Librarians help people find information on how to register to vote, become a citizen or write a letter to their senator or the president. It's not always a dramatic encounter, but librarians really can, and do, change the world for the better, one book at a time and one patron at a time. They make information and good books to read freely available, without any accompanying judgment or question of why the patron wants what they want.

The public library is the heart and soul — and brain — of the community. Libraries fill in the gap between the classroom and home, offering help with homework, a quiet place for study and the resources to find information beyond what might be available on Wikipedia. Thousands of children crowd Seattle libraries each week for story time in English, and languages such as Spanish, Somali and Mandarin. Libraries are the foundation of a strong education, whether you're 8 or 80, in school or not. Whatever you're looking for can be found with the help of a librarian.

The library does even more. By providing access for people without computers or Internet service, libraries help bridge the digital divide. Unemployed residents come to the library seeking resources that will help them become employable and employed. They take classes to learn computer-literacy skills such as how to write a résumé and evaluate job listings.

Seattle is one of the most visited library systems in the country. In 1998, the Libraries For All bond measure helped build and refurbish branches in every neighborhood in Seattle. In the years since, Seattleites have spoken with their feet and their library cards. The proof is in the numbers: 14.3 million visits in 2011 alone show that we love our libraries.

No one should be surprised that Seattle libraries have suffered from the ongoing economic downturn, especially as the city has had to cut its budget in the last four years. The library system might lose as much as $5 million in next year's budget. Without the Proposition 1 levy, the libraries will be forced to make more cuts and close as many as five branches. I'm glad to see that we now have an opportunity to support the library services that citizens count on, use and love so much.

Vote yes on your Aug. 7 ballot and you'll see real results. The funds generated by the levy will increase hours and services, improve library collections, upgrade computers and help with important maintenance at every branch. The annual one-week closure of the entire system would be removed. The all-important reference staff would be restored at affected branches and the services that millions of people rely on would be preserved and enhanced.

My experience when I was a child at the Parkman Branch Library was formative for me, but I don't think I'm alone. I know that libraries absolutely do make the world a better place.

When your ballot arrives, you will have the ability to make good books and information freely available to everyone. Help us change the world one book at a time, one patron at a time. Vote yes to support Seattle Proposition 1.

Nancy Pearl is former executive director of Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library and author of "Book Lust."

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