Inspired by/adapted from a presentation I gave in my freshman year of college.
When was the last time you visited your local library? Think about it. Now narrow it down to the last time you were at a library because you wanted to be there – not because you had to do research for a school project or fulfill some other kind of obligation.
I know there are many in my audience who are avid readers, so perhaps this question is a little pointless. For us, a trip to the library is no less common than a trip to the grocery store. We thrive in those stacks of books. However, there are many others who aren’t big readers – which is totally okay! – and don’t frequent libraries as much as we do.
Although I still believe local libraries are wonderful places to gain knowledge (there’s only so much the internet can do), they offer more than that. They offer useful services for patrons, but more than anything else, they bring people together. After researching my local library and other libraries around the country, I can say with certainty that they offer much more than books.
Libraries Encourage & Assist with Learning
This learning goes far beyond looking for sources for a research project or finding a book on how to fold origami – although those are both great things. More than that though, libraries often offer classes that can help people learn new skills.
One example I learned of is the Glenwood Branch Library, part of the Greensboro (NC) public library system. This particular library offers a Multicultural Resource center, which includes English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship classes for immigrants.
In addition to this, public libraries may also offer classes to teach community members 21st century skills, which are defined by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as including things like:
- Critical and Creative Thinking
- Problem Solving Skills
- Communication and Collaboration
- Technological Literacy
Among many others. These skills are vital to being successful in our society, but are also hard to obtain. For technology in particular, someone who didn’t grow up in the era of technology like my generation did, learning how to use it effectively can be a challenge. Fortunately, libraries are there to help!
Libraries Promote Civic Engagement
For starters, many libraries are polling places, so they are often key players in connecting community members to information about voter registration. For example, the San Antonio Public Library system offers voter registration when patrons sign up for library cards.
Currently, my local library also holds a weekly discussion group that talks about global political issues facing the United States today, including relations with other foreign nations, and topics surrounding trade and energy. Once again, the library offers a way for citizens to become informed about issues that may affect them and gives them a venue in which they can discuss these issues in a healthy and constructive way.
Libraries are Hubs of Local History
I don’t know why I never noticed it before, by my library has an entire section dedicated to local history. There are artifacts, books, and archives that patrons are free to peruse. If you’re looking into family history or genealogy, there are resources for that as well. Websites like Ancestry.com are available for patrons to use, and of course, there’s always a librarian happy to help you find whatever information you’re seeking. The same often goes for other local libraries.
Libraries Connect Communities
When I went to the Local Author Fair a few weeks ago, it was hosted by my local library. I know that doesn’t seem like a huge deal – it makes sense that a place full of books would want to connect with writers – but the fact that they did that means something more. Partnering with the local writer’s guild to host that author fair shows that the library truly cares about its community, so much that it wants to show the community what amazing opportunities are available to them.
Of course, there are other ways that libraries connect communities – everything from family movie nights to book clubs to summer reading programs to children’s storytimes shows that the library is involved and invested in its community. This is really the goal of libraries. Yes, they offer information on various topics, but when it all comes down to it, the most important mission for libraries is to build up their communities. Even if paper books become obsolete, I believe that libraries will still exist. They play an integral role in educating people and bringing them together, something that cannot be easily replaced.
As the American Library Association puts it:
Libraries are many things to their communities. They offer the practical information people need to improve their quality of life and to increase individual options in a complex society—information about health, education, business, child care, computers, the environment, looking for a job… and much more.
Libraries also give their communities something less tangible, yet just as essential to a satisfying and productive life—nourishment for the spirit. Programs in the humanities and the arts that encourage people to think and talk about ethics and values, history, art, poetry, and other cultures are integral to the library’s mission.
Such programs help to illuminate the experiences, beliefs and values that unite us as human beings. They stimulate us to make connections where we noticed none before—between our ancestors and ourselves, between one culture and another, between the community and the individual.