EDITORIAL: Libraries strengthen communities

York Dispatch
  • A new season is the perfect time to discover new places and ideas.
  • One community resource perfect for such endeavors is your public library.
  • Libraries build communities and communities must support their libraries.

As summer fades into fall, it’s the time of the year when many of us might naturally refocus on cuddling with a good book — or e-reader, as the case may be.

Digital disruption has, of course, reached the publishing industry and print items — books, newspapers, magazines, etc. — are easily found online and enjoyed with electronic readers.

Some, of course, still prefer the tactile experience of a book or newspaper.

The folks who run libraries know about this disruption and what it means for their future as well as anyone. Of all of the industries and organizations disrupted by technology, libraries have navigated the evolution masterfully and come out more of a community center than ever.

And this is a good place to acknowledge all York County libraries, including Martin Library, of course. It’s our community meeting place, offering so much more than books to borrow. The library hosts children’s playtime, online services, space for support groups and this summer, in the children’s area, free meals for kids in need — no questions asked.

More: Summer lunch program tries to reach more kids in York County

Libraries across the country also have begun lending physical objects, such as musical instruments. A library director in Massachusetts recently decided he had too many guitars and brought some to his library for lending.

The idea was so popular, the community began to donate items they no longer needed in order to keep the program varied and going strong.

“Libraries have in recent years become places not only where you can passively absorb information,” Summerville Public Library director Glenn Ferdman told National Public Radio, “but places where you actively engage with and create stuff.”

These libraries of things are low-tech alternatives to the barrage of high-tech consumption we experience and engage with today. And the American Library Association points to similar projects underway in a dozen states, according to NPR:

“Arun Sundararajan, an economist at NYU, said your local library is part of the sharing economy. ‘People go there to get access without ownership,’ he said. Sundararajan believes that libraries can help reduce inequality. A guitar costs hundreds of dollars. But a library card is free, and it gives you access to community.”

Library boosters encourage communities to fight for and fund their public libraries. These organizations argue that they are community-builders, partners in sustainability, catalysts for addressing social problems, reflect important political, social and democratic values and provide business and employment services.

According to www.publiclibraryonline.org, libraries also:

  • Serve as community centers for diverse populations
  • Provide immigrants with helpful information about, and opportunities to connect with, their new communities
  • Provide information, resources and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed and questioning (LGBTIQ) patrons
  • Provide information, resources and support for patrons with disabilities
  • Serve as centers for the arts
  • Provide access to nonmainstream points of view and give voice to local artists
  • Serve as universities
  • Promote civil discourse
  • Champion youth
  • Teach teens important life skills
  • Serve as important partners in child development

This fall, take some time to stop in and experience all your public library has to offer. Encourage the children in your life to let their imaginations run wild and learn about everything from making music to making history. Help  kids foster a love of learning and wonder in the magical spaces of your local library.

And, if you are able, help shore up the community treasure that is your public library through volunteering your time or donating some money.

Libraries provide a world of support for communities, and communities like ours must in turn provide a world of support for them.