“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” – Ray Bradbury
Writers and readers alike know the importance of libraries for communities, but the way the librarians, and library workers, can transform lives may surprise some of us. The interlibrary loan gives us access to a virtually unlimited choice of reading or research materials. In communities where reliable internet isn’t readily available, the technology that libraries offer can make the difference between getting a solid education and falling through the cracks for both children and adults. In addition, they are our first line of defense against rampant misinformation.
Not just for computers and books
During the height of the pandemic, libraries were designated an essential service. In addition to materials for study and entertainment, they provide a point of connection for members of the community. Libraries also offer lots of classes and programs:
- During tax season, they help people file their taxes.
- Adult literacy programs, often one-one.
- Senior computer classes to help those citizens navigate the digital world.
- Free tutoring for kids of all ages.
And don’t forget that school libraries are a similar sort of asset to the children who may not be able to visit other libraries. These are just a few of the reasons we should all take part in celebrating and supporting our local libraries.
Libraries Have a Long History
Libraries have been evolving for thousands of years, housing everything from clay tablets stored in wooden boxes to shelves of parchment scrolls. And, in 1800 the newly formed United States prioritized reading, research, and study by passing legislation and budgeting $5,000 to form The Library of Congress. Part of the legislation read “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress … and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.” Books were ordered from London, and the initial collection of 740 books and 3 maps, was housed in the new Capitol.
First in the Nation
In 1833, the first tax-supported public library in the US was established in Peterborough NH. It was first funded by a Town Meeting where it became clear that monies from the State Literary Fund were inadequate to fund a university, so the money was reallocated for the library. The books were owned by the people and freely available to all of the town’s residents. To borrow books town residents went to Smith & Thompson’s general store which also housed the post office.
Later in the nineteenth century Andrew Carnegie devoted much of his fortune to the expansion of library access. Carnegie alone built over 2000 libraries in the US and funded academic libraries, prioritizing small schools and those that admitted African American students. When establishing new libraries he stipulated that communities provide sites and commit to staff salaries and building maintenance. Carnegie libraries also required public funds, ensuring community buy-in. By the time he died, Carnegie had given away 90% of his wealth with $40 million to the construction of 1,670 public libraries and more than 100 academic libraries in the United States.
It’s National Library Week April 3-9, 2022
National Library Week is one way we can celebrate our libraries and librarians. This year’s theme is “Connect with your library.” Molly Shannon is the honorary chair and spokesperson. Since her mom was a librarian, this is something close to her heart. So pay your library a visit. Bring someone to get their library card. Drop off a plate of cookies or a thank you note. Make a donation to the Friends of the Library. And be sure to thank a librarian.
For more information, visit ala.org/nlw