Saturday, April 19, 2014

National Library Week 2014

Through the 19th, we are celebrating National Library Day.

It's a chance to celebrate, acknowledge, and become aware of what libraries and library workers do for communities.

And I'm glad that we have this celebration of our libraries.

As it is, the library, like many public institution gets shorts shrift in many conversations. It's taken as unneeded and outmoded. A relic.

We do live in more an online world. Many resources that we need can be reached by other means. Plenty of people plop down in a coffee shop and log in. But the library is still a needed resource for many.

  • It's a community area. It's a place where people can work, study, and meet. 
 And for free (You don't even have to buy food or drink to be there.)

  • It's a resource for people who don't have good or any access to the Internet. 

Yeah, some people don't actually have access in there homes. Some people can't afford a smart phone. Some people need a place to access the Internet, or actually make use of shelves of books on topics. Sometimes people need a place that they can go and ask for help in finding information, for free.

Sometimes I worry that the tech community is oblivious to the segment of this country that isn't as well off, or doesn't have stable wireless/wired service. Some people have money and tech at hand, and are set. Some people actually need the public institutions, like the library, so they can keep up.

When I go to a library to work, it is teeming with people. People looking to read, people researching, people working on resumes and job applications, kids writing papers, groups of kids meeting up to work together, little kids being introduced to a world of books. And then there also those people behind the desks, waiting to help those with questions.

A resource for everyone.

  • It's a place you can go and learn, free of judgement or control.

The library is a place you choose the book you pick up and read. You choose the subject. You can build your own opinions. You expand your mind on your own terms.

Isn't that scary?

I wonder where in society a negative attitude towards public libraries lies? Because, as noted, I see libraries used heavily in the city I live in. Young and old go. Families go. Those looking to better themselves go. People with a free afternoon go.

Maybe it is just a few that have this dismissive attitude.

But, at the same time, I do see a move among conservative thinkers to dismantle our public institutions. One by one. They are resources, so why not sell them, hmm?

They make the argument that they all cost too much. That they can make money selling them off, and save money having them run by private institutions.

But it's a library. Should a library be a profit center? It's a tool for the community to function. It's a support mechanism. The public library exists to allow free access to books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and Internet.

That isn't a way to make a profit.

Yet we see conservative politicians in places like Michigan selling off museums even. It's amazing.

Starting 120 years ago, there was a flurry of interest in the United States to build libraries. Public libraries. Libraries meant for all to use, and benefit from.

Andrew Carnegie, for his own reasons, helped during this period of spurred interest to build public libraries. His endowment helped build over 1,500 in the United States alone. The idea was to ensure that books were available to all. That knowledge was available. People should have the resources to better themselves. And communities should have an interest in making sure these resources were available.

The existence of our libraries should matter to us. Even if you have the world in your smart phone and tablet, not everyone gets to live that way.

So be aware this week what the libraries mean to us.

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