Find it at the Library
A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.
When I heard the theme for National Library Week (April 7-13) this year is “Libraries = Strong Communities,” I was delighted. I couldn't agree more!
Carnegie did so much more than write the quote above, though. His program of grants helped build more than 2500 libraries all around the world in less than 25 years. He didn’t just give away money, though. He required active community participation in the construction and ongoing funding of a library, and many of them are still open – in places like Skerries, Ireland, where my grandfather grew up, and Germantown in Philadelphia, where I first borrowed a book. (It’s now a senior center.) Here in South Carolina, where I now live, 14 public libraries were built between 1903 and 1916 with Carnegie grants.
On my vacations, I sometimes stop in to visit them – city branch libraries serving neighborhoods, lovely little libraries in small towns – they all celebrate community today.
I was in love with books at first. They took me to places I knew I’d never see. Now, I realize libraries do much more than house books; they are vibrant places, the center of civic life for a town or neighborhood, and they collaborate with other organizations to build community through free programs for all ages. In our little town, pre-school educational activities are just one example of educational activities, offered for free, that have been proven time and again to make a difference in a child’s education. How many of us know about it – and all the other ways the library provides a free education for anyone who wants to use it?
I’m still learning about libraries, and I now know this: it’s the people who work in our libraries that make the magic work. I’ve been to new libraries that win architectural awards and old city branches long overdue for renovations. In both I find staff members with a love for books and learning.
In the 1950’s, my brothers and I sat on the floor at a story time program in our neighborhood library, and years later, as a high school English teacher, I sometimes wondered who that patient woman was, reading to a bunch of restless city kids. She made a difference in my life and I never told her.
You can help make a difference, too. Visit your library and encourage the staff. Ask them questions, ask for suggestions. Browse, too: you’ll find books and other media on subjects you never knew existed!
Ask how you can help, too. Around the world, Friends of the Library organizations help to build great libraries. Find out who they are, and join them. No matter who we are and what our beliefs, we all win when we help build a community though the public library.