Monday, April 29, 2019

Libraries for All

Public Spaces

It is evident to all that I love libraries and books, and am a strong believer in public libraries as a force of social good for communities, both big and small. Such is the point that Sue Halpern brings out in an article (“In Praise of Public Libraries;” April 18, 2019) in The New York Review of Books; Halpern writes:
Years ago, I lived in a remote mountain town that had never had a public library. The town was one of the largest in New York State by area but small in population, with a couple thousand residents spread out over about two hundred square miles. By the time my husband and I moved there, the town had lost most of its economic base—in the nineteenth century it had supported a number of tanneries and mills—and our neighbors were mainly employed seasonally, if at all. When the regional library system’s bookmobile was taken out of service, the town had no easy access to books. The town board proposed a small tax increase to fund a library, something on the order of ten dollars per household. It was soundly defeated. The dominant sentiments seemed to be “leave well enough alone” and “who needs books?” Then there was the man who declared that “libraries are communist.”
By then, through the machinations of the town board, which scrounged up $15,000 from its annual budget and deputized me and two retired teachers to—somehow—turn that money into a lending library, we had around three thousand books on loan from the regional library consortium tucked into a room at the back of town hall. We’d been advised by librarians at the consortium that five hundred library cards would take us through the first year. They took us through the first three weeks. Our librarian, whose previous job was running a used bookstore, turned out to be a master of handselling, even to the rough-and-tumble loggers and guys on the road crew who brought their kids in for story time and left with novels he’d pulled for them, and then came back, alone, for more. Books were being checked out by the bagful; there were lines at the circulation desk. Children especially, but sometimes adults, couldn’t believe it was all free.
Truly wonderful. I, too, understand the importance of a library in a small community. When we lived in a rural community of 4,500 in New Hampshire, in Belknap County, 30 minutes northeast of its capital of Concord, we were members of the town’s library. It was well-used and served as an important place to not only take out books, but also to get all kinds of information from librarians.

At a time when almost everything costs money, and when people are increasingly being divided along class lines and when money is considered a great virtue by those who have it and where public spaces are shrinking, it is pleasing to know that libraries are freely open to anyone who has a library card, i.e., for everyone. Libraries are an equitable public space. This is something worth praising.

So, it comes as no surprise that when we moved to Maple, which is a community north of Toronto, we immediately joined the local library. Doing so gives us access to all nine libraries in the City of Vaughan, a fair sized city of about 300,000.

You can read the rest of the article [here].

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