Many of my fondest childhood memories involve the local library. Countless summer mornings and afternoons were spent in the children’s reading area while my mother browsed the cookbooks. Seated with my siblings on cushioned, cow print chairs, warmed by the sun through floor to ceiling windows, a stack of books at our feet, we’d read our way through as many as we could and bring the rest home with us.
There were also occasional weekends on which we attended readings and presentations. Once, even one given by a zoologist who came accompanied by a menagerie of exotic animals. At this particular presentation, I remember a ten-foot banana boa, one of the coolest snakes I’ve ever seen, and an alligator — its mouth banded shut — both of which we were permitted to hold with the help of the presenter.
I can’t imagine another situation in which I would have been able to do that as a child. There are reasons far beyond the simple joy of books for one to love the library. It is ignorant to claim that libraries are a waste of money.
It may be true that they don’t generate enough income to be considered lucrative or economically “valuable.” But the true value of a library cannot be measured in numbers and dollar signs. Society at large would be remiss without the invaluable wealth of a library’s collective resources. In this post, I explore just a few of the many reasons why I believe libraries to be crucial pillars of every community.
Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.Sidney Sheldon
Obviously, the number one reason to love the library is for the access to books at no cost. One can walk in with no more than a library card, not a single penny to their name, and leave with a stack of books. So long as the books are returned on time, one never has to spend a thing. (But also, it should be noted that, at least at my local library currently, they are still waiving late fees for all patrons, as was implemented during the early days of the pandemic. Check with your local library to see what their current policies are.)
Books are becoming ever more expensive as the cost of ink and paper rises, but literature should be accessible to everyone. The library offers an alternative for those who can’t afford to buy brand new books. Plus, without the burden of cost, readers can dabble in different genres, read books they typically might not choose, and discover new literary interests, without worrying that they’ll waste money on a book that’s no good.
Access to Technology
Back between December and January, there was a nearly four-week stretch during which my home wifi wasn’t working, for no apparent reason. As someone who runs a blog and writes historical fiction which often requires many Google searches during the process, internet access isn’t something I can write without. During this time of no internet, I was also looking for a new job. The library was my saving grace. I could go and use the public wifi to search employment databases or work on blog posts, without having to spend a thing.
Not only do libraries offer free wifi and computer access, but they also have technology such as printers, scanners, fax machines, and copiers. Most people don’t have this equipment at home anymore, and FedEx or other such places are usually far more expensive than the library. I had a home printer for years, but it stopped working several months ago, and I’ve yet to buy a new one. If I ever need to print something, I go to the library and, within minutes, have printed my documents for just ten cents a page. Some libraries even have sewing machines, calculators, bike pumps, and other such gadgets for patrons to check out or use while there.
Movies, Games, and Music
Back when I was a kid we didn’t own a lot of movies or music, because those things are expensive. But borrowing VHS tapes and CDs from the library is free, so there was no reason we couldn’t do that. Many of the movies I watched as a kid and the CDs to which I listened were borrowed from the library. I wouldn’t have had access to them without it.
Nowadays, of course, most people watch movies and listen to music on streaming services, but not everyone can afford those. And besides, not every movie is available for streaming, all the time. It’s certainly happened to me before, when a particular movie I’m in the mood to watch isn’t available anywhere. There have also been times when I want to try out a video game before purchasing it, to see if it’s worth the cost. The library makes all of this possible, offering free access to movies, video games, music, and other forms of entertainment.
Community Events and Presentations
As someone who is always eager to learn, I love attending lectures and presentations. The library puts on such events at no cost to attendees, just like the exotic animal presentation I went to as a child, as mentioned in this post’s introduction. A few years ago, I attended a lecture at my local library about the works and life of Stephen King. At the time, King was one of my favorite authors, and it was wonderful to hear the presenter, another local bookworm and fan of King’s work, share with us his literary love and passion.
Learning should not be confined to the walls of tuition-charging universities. Everyone should have the right to access new information and share in the wealth of others’ knowledge, whether they can afford to attend higher education or not. Libraries offer this option, and communities are better for it. When we value learning and knowledge above money and control, society at large benefits immeasurably.
Local libraries are not sufficient replacements for community centers and homeless shelters, of course. There are reasons communities need those things, in addition. However, the library does offer, at the very least, a safe, indoor space for youth and people without homes to spend time without having to pay for anything. There exist no other such places that I can think of. In order to take up space at most establishments (restaurants, coffee shops, and so forth), one must always buy something, or else be kicked out for loitering.
At my local library, there’s even a designated teen section designed to resemble a classic ’50s diner, from which children and adults are strictly banned. If more libraries had spaces like this — those that catered to teenagers specifically — perhaps they would be inclined to spend their evenings and weekends there, safe, where adults are present, even if not directly supervising them. It might even do so much as to help keep some teenagers out of trouble.
Exposure to Art and Culture
Many libraries introduce art and culture to the community through various events and displays. This past fall, at mine, they put on an art contest, to showcase local artists and provide the community with a chance to judge the pieces. The winners of the contest were rewarded with recognition and having their art put on indefinite display.
Exposure to art and culture should not be reserved only for the upper classes; these things are imperative to the intellectual stimulation of all individuals. Although some communities do have art museums and galleries that don’t charge an entrance fee, some art museums are inaccessibly priced. Library patrons have the option of experiencing the beauty and profundity of artwork without the expense of a traditional museum.
Quiet Places to Work
I often find it easier to focus on my work and writing when I get out of the house to do it, away from the many distractions of home. But whether I can truly focus certainly depends on where I go. When I go to the coffee shop or cafe, I’m typically distracted by overheard conversations, people watching, and just the noise and bustle of the place.
When I go to the library, however, the standard is silence and there are few distractions. Everyone else is also there for the same reason: to work in quiet and focus. And if one needs even fewer distractions or perhaps a place to work collaboratively without distracting others, the library has private rooms available. And the best part of all this, again: it’s free.
There are many reasons to love the library. I haven’t even begun to touch on them all. But these are the reasons that stand out to me, those which have most impacted and enriched my life. I’d love to hear from my readers your reasons for loving the public library system and how it’s made your lives richer.