My brother and I both have degrees in library science. We began our training in the days when libraries were quiet, respectful places, full of the treasures that came with reading books. Our parents encouraged reading. I can remember as a child climbing the steps to the third floor of City Hall which at that time was home to the Glendive Public Library. It was in my mind a shrine, a holy place. I could find books to read. I could browse through the materials and I could go home with treasures.
Both of us worked in public school and public libraries and still today are lifelong users of public libraries. Living in Henderson, Nevada, my brother has discovered libraries that are marvels of technology and innovative centers of learning. One of my recent treats was to visit one with him while there.
The key to understanding why libraries are vital to our society is to see them as information centers. Now, with computers and wi-fi available to all the community, the slogan of the library “as the true university of the people” was never more apparent. Libraries pride themselves on providing free and accessible information on both sides of the issue. A library must be a safe place to discuss issues and to find people of inquiring minds.
In this divided world in which we find ourselves, my brother sent me a column from an on-line magazine. I don’t need to say anything more.
The author, Anthony W. Marx, president of the NY Public Library, wrote this: Many in our great country aren’t listening. We aren’t vetting information. Our curiosity ends the moment that we discover information different than what we already believe. We don’t debate, We defriend. We are so convinced that we are right that we can’t tolerate an opposing thought. This is unspeakably dangerous, and in direct opposition to the founding principles of our nation. We are meant to be a democracy of informed citizens, a country of curious people who feel a collective ownership over our future and joint responsibility to protect the values we are supposed to stand for: Inclusion. Acceptance. Discussion. Debate. Equality. Opportunity. Without those bonds and a commitment to establishing fact-based arguments and critiques of power, democracy itself is at risk. . .
And there’s one thing every American can do to get started—a very simple resolution that we can all commit to in 2019: We can go to our local libraries, get library cards, and start our journeys towards healing our democracy. You can meet your neighbors there. You can find books there. You can find librarians eager to point you towards credible, vetted information there. You can find your community there. Go. Visit. Introduce yourself to a librarian. Introduce yourself to a patron. Ask for a recommendation.
There are endless stats about the benefits of community interaction and reading for pleasure. I don’t need the stats: I see it every day, as I have the privilege of visiting various branches of The New York Public Library system. I see people proactively checking out books, reading, taking classes, and learning. People from all walks of life — all backgrounds, all income levels — sit together, learn together, help each other, and talk to each other. There are red neighborhoods and blue neighborhoods in the three New York City boroughs we serve. Everyone comes together with equal opportunity to access knowledge and information. Everything is free.
This is completely unique to public libraries. In an increasingly isolated world, where it’s so easy to criticize and disrespect others behind the anonymity of the internet, libraries are an oasis of calm and community — temples of knowledge that welcome everyone and are located in every neighborhood across the country.
We are at a moment in history, where if we can't sit together, if we can't learn about each other, if we can't respect each other, then we won’t have a democracy. The public library is quietly fighting to protect and maintain our democracy. We are in every neighborhood, on the front lines, ensuring an informed, learning and skilled citizenry. We take it seriously and we are proud of that role.
So in 2019, please, make a resolution to start a revolution against darkness and ignorance. It has already started — in our system, library card sign-ups are up more than 40 percent over last year. Research collection usage is up. So let’s keep it going. The fate of our nation depends on it.
Amen. Amen. And Amen.