Brookfield, IL, where I live, is a small suburb west of Chicago most famous for its zoo, but we moved there because of affordable houses and great schools. Turns out, lots of other young families have done likewise. Our suburb is booming and we need a new library (link has specific info).
Our library does a great job with its tiny space, but it tries to wedge its many visitors into a much too small space. There’s no quiet area to study or read. The meetings rooms are cramped and in the basement, where no one really wants to go. As more and more children come to Brookfield, it’s time for our community to invest in a new library.
There’s a referendum. It’ll cost me about 15$ a month to help build the new library. I’m voting yes.
- There are social good reasons: Equal access to books, information, places to learn.
- There are organization reasons: Meeting space for a growing community.
- There are economic reasons: The new library is likely to boost my property value.
- There are educational reasons: Creativity and imagination are the child’s pathway to success in both personal and professional context.
Here are other reasons we need libraries, and good libraries, including mine at the end.
Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.
I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.
We look at a child reading and we say: “Look at her, she’s lost in her book.” The lucky child has a parent who reads to him, the lucky child has books on her shelves. All children should have the luck to have a public library, filled not only with information and computers but with books, and book people.
Tony Marx of the New York Public Library has some answers. Today’s libraries still lend books, he says. But they also provide other services to communities, such as free access to computers and Wi-Fi, story times to children, language classes to immigrants and technology training to everyone.
“Public libraries are arguably more important today than ever before,” Marx says. “Their mission is still the same — to provide free access to information to all people. The way people access information has changed, but they still need the information to succeed, and libraries are providing that.”
Or as Andrew Carnegie said many years ago: “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”
The library is the one place in a community designated as safe for imagination, exploration, and learning. I wish it were the schools, but schools are fraught grounds with testing, social hierarchies, and compliance. But the library – it’s a space in which anything is possible, if there’s space, if there are books on the shelves, readings in the corner, enough terminals so that everyone – child and adult – can read and research and game and chat. Communities need imagination.
VOTE LOCAL ON YOUR LOCAL ISSUES. But if you live near me, vote yes on the library.