Libraries have always been at the top of the list when communities grew into towns, and have always had to fight for funding and the respect they deserve.
None other than Benjamin Franklin pushed for public libraries in every town in the fledgling United States. Travel journals were popular in the 19th century, especially those written by European journalists visiting America, and libraries (or the lack thereof) are frequently mentioned. Promoters of new settlements during the western expansion were quick to point out that new towns had libraries. Recruiting posters for turn-of-the-century factories touted that their milltowns had libraries.
It’s a testimony to the hard work of library staffs, as well as the loyalty of at least some patrons, that libraries still exist. Television, E-books and the Internet have led to fewer publishing houses printing real books. Library-quality books are more expensive to produce, since they are expected to have a longer useful life than those in a private collection. Rising costs and falling budgets every year make it a tough battle for library professionals to keep their shelves stocked and the doors open.
Yet our libraries are a treasure trove; they are truly representative of the democratic society. For years, some folks had a problem with the very simple concept that anyone, rich or poor, regardless of their race, political party or other difference, should be able to walk into a library and delve into the knowledge and power hidden within.
The public library isn’t just an American thing, but our country brought the concept to its pinnacle. It’s a shame that we as a society don’t have the appreciation of local public libraries that we once did. Books allow us to learn, to travel, to experience, to think, to understand, and to discover. The very essence of America can be found in something as simple and democratic as a library card—a card that says anyone is welcome to read, and everyone is subject to the same rules.
Only in a public library can one read about the American dream, see how other folks achieved it, and learn how to make that dream come true for one’s self. Only in a public library can anyone off the street enjoy the music of three centuries ago, or the literature of last week, or the stories of those who built, defended and protect our country—all within a few steps, and all for free.
Our libraries aren’t just repositories of books. They are storehouses of potential, a potential often cast aside for something shiny and new in this immediate-gratification driven world.
Next week is National Library Week. We hope you will take this time to visit your local library, and see what you might have been missing.
While you’re at it—see if you have any overdue library books, and take them back, too. Let someone else share the joy, the power, the enlightenment, the knowledge and the wonder of a book.