Libraries: an endangered habitat we must preserve

 

My elementary school had circle time in the library a couple times a week. We read classics like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and the entire Anansi the Spider series. We also learned the Dewey Decimal System through a helpful jingle which I can still sing (Dew, Dew, Dewey! The Dewey Decimal System!). It was a foundational time in my understanding and love of libraries.

Like the Amazon rainforest, library habitats are slowly being destroyed by lack of funding and insufficient protest. It’s heartbreaking to see one of the greatest public services this country offers diminishing or closing completely. The Boston Public Libraries are faced with closing as many as 8 branches and limiting services this year due to budget cuts.

Perhaps you would argue that public libraries are null and void in a world where there is Internet, but I hope with a little more reflection you can see how amazingly privileged we are to have them, and  what an important place libraries have in the global community. I want to illuminate some of the less obvious advantages to a library that can’t be covered by the phrase “there are books there.”

First, not everyone has a smart phone. This may give you a bit of a start, but not everyone has a laptop either. In fact, most of the world doesn’t. But public libraries offer free access to the Web for the myriad people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. That includes everything from paying bills to Gmail chatting family abroad.

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

Second, not everyone speaks English. My shy Swedish mother learned her second language in a library-sponsored program. Similar programs are offered around the country for those looking to pass the citizenship exam or just to improve on the language skills they have.

Third, books are expensive. It shouldn’t only be the privileged class that gets to read the latest hardback novel or the next addition to the Oprah book club. Public libraries are a democratic place where the enjoyment of literature is not only on reserve for those who can afford it.

Fourth, librarians are smart — really smart. There is a reason they chose this job and there is a reason they are good at it. Librarians aren’t only there to shush you or remind you to pick up your discarded wrappers; these are people who have extensive book knowledge beyond remembering the latest book to win the Pulitzer. Librarians often have specialties — rare books, recording oral histories, restoring ancient books, and in general, safeguarding important historical records.

Fifth, public libraries are a place to gather. This item seems most obvious, until you take a closer look at just who is filling the rooms. Besides the English conversation groups, there are anime clubs, homework help groups, SAT prep tests, and senior get-togethers. All of these services are free. Public libraries also have the ability to link all learners like these together, and that doesn’t just imply students.

We’ve all walked into the Boston Public Library’s grand hall (what I like to call the Harry Potter room) and just felt that jolt of calm energy emitted from people thinking, and thinking hard.

The feeling represents what a library really is at its core: a dialogue between me, other students, and professionals who have dedicated their time to this building. My active participation and investment in libraries is one way in which I try to further the field of research or art or something in a setting that makes me proud to do that.

I realize college students don’t have weekly get-togethers in the reading corner of their local library, and the Anansi series hasn’t been on my bookshelf for a while. There is something to be said, however, for the way elementary school students use their library. There is celebration in knowledge, community interaction, and some good old-fashioned book reading.