Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Although I am a teacher/librarian by vocation, I am also a public library user by avocation.

Each year, the American Library Association publishes a number of Fact Sheets which summarize various aspects of its State of America's Libraries Report. According to ALA Library Fact Sheet 6, 19 states reported cutting library hours, staff, or services, with additional budget reductions frequently taking place at local levels. Despite these funding issues, the fact sheet notes that:
  • two-thirds of the 1,000-plus adults contacted in the survey said that the library's assistance in starting a business or finding a job was important to them
  • studies show that public libraries have a significant positive economic impact on the local economy and increase property value
  • taxpayers entrusted libraries with their tax dollars by approving 87 percent of operating measures on ballots across the country
  • library visitation per capita has steadily increased over the past 10 years; circulation per capita has also generally increased during the past 10 years
  • computer usage at public libraries continues to increase; 67 percent of libraries report they are the only provider of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities
These last few items confirm what I have seen for myself: our local public library is always buzzing, with people browsing the shelves; parents and children participating in reading activities, both organized and informal; teens wandering in and out of their special area; citizens of all ages using computers. Print books AND music AND DVDs AND electronic resources are all available, a necessary blend for modern life. There is a Folk Life center, with primary source artifacts, and a schedule of exhibitions, lectures and programs. Citizens can do everything from complete tax forms online to watch a movie, in addition to selecting reading material or doing research.

Of particular interest to me were an exhibit and an individual.

The exhibit was a collection of webkinz stuffed animals, curated not by the library staff, but by one of the young patrons. Students sign up to participate in the "Guess What I Collect" program, and are then responsible for arranging their items in a plexiglass display case located in the children's department. Staff members tell me that this is a very popular activity, with a long waiting list. It's a wonderful way to personalize and humanize the library environment (and could easily be adapted to a school setting).

The individual was a young man I encountered in one of the reading rooms. My eye was drawn to a skateboard, resting on the window ledge next to his laptop, and I asked if I could take a photo of both him and his "stuff." After explaining who I was (retired librarian who loved taking photos of libraries and readers), and assuring him that the picture would respect his privacy, he willingly posed for me. This older teen told me that he came to the library to check on jobs and look up information about colleges, since he has no internet access at home. I have no idea whether or not he was telling me the truth about his online activities, but the point is not what he was doing, but that he wanted/needed to connect and the public library is the place that offered him that option.

I believe that libraries are about more than objects, they're about people and their interactions: with these objects, with apps, with other people.

Carl Sagan believed that
"The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries."

School, public, academic, specialty: whatever the type of library, it was created to fill a need, serve a purpose, serve the young man with his laptop, like the older woman reading by a window, like the young children enjoying story time, like me. All of us learners, all of us seeking, and finding, services at our public library.

"That Paradise will be a kind of library" by dmcordell
"Display case" by dmcordell
"Connecting at the Library" by dmcordell
"A Quiet Spot" by dmcordell

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