Friday, November 13, 2009

Is the public library an essential service?

I remember the day I got my first library card. I was six years old, and I rode in the car, sitting between my parents in the front seat. (Mom must have been holding my baby brother. This was when cars had bench seats and infant safety seats were yet to be invented.) The "head" librarian, Mrs. Whitbeck, gave me my card, and turned me loose in the easy reader section of the children's room. They had books there just like the ones we were reading in first grade. Dick! Jane! Run, Spot, Run! I was in heaven. I think I had the books read before we even got home.

A year later, we moved into town, less than a mile from the library. The world was a safer place then, and there were sidewalks all the way to the library, so my mom would let me walk there myself, which I did as often as I could. How I loved that place! My hometown was also the hometown of Lavinia Warren Bump, who married Charles Stratton, the famous midget known as General Tom Thumb. Full-size portraits of the pair, as well as her sister Minnie and another midget known as Commodore Nutt, hung in the library, and I can honestly say I grew up under their watchful eyes.

During high school, I went to the library every day after school to hang out with my friends, and also to do my homework (honestly!) I cannot imagine my life without libraries. And, yes, I became a librarian so now it's my livelihood, too. But even if I'd chosen another career, I would still be a regular library user. The library is essential to my life.

There are some that think libraries are a thing of the past, that "everything" can be found online, that libraries are not "essential" to a community. This is not to be confused with "emergency" services, which are also essential. The library is not an emergency service, though people who need certain types of information may make their request with a sense of urgency. But "essential" is a subjective term. What's essential to my life may not be essential to yours, and vice versa. So who decides what's essential to you and what's not? Please share your comments on this subject with other readers of this blog. Is the library essential to you? In what way? If the library wasn't here, how would you fill your need for the services it provides? Could you? And how much would you have to spend? Compelling questions; tell us your answers?

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