COVID-19 has taught us a lot about what’s important. We have realized how vital certain jobs are, kickstarting discussions on raising wages for such positions. We have realized the value of family and community and have learned a number of different ways to stay connected with those we love, even in the midst of a pandemic.
One thing I have learned to appreciate during this time is the value of public libraries. For as long as I can remember, libraries have been a refuge for me. They aren’t just places where I browse for books.
Rather, they are places where I can feel comfortable in solitude, where I can study and learn in quiet without feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. There’s something deeply peaceful about being surrounded by stacks of books and my fellow learners, all of us working together toward the goals of furthering our education and expanding our bases of knowledge.
That’s what libraries are really about: community. This pandemic has revealed just how incredible libraries are, and as they begin to reopen in the coming months, I suggest that we take advantage of all the resources they offer and show them our support.
Too many people make the mistake of thinking that libraries are just for bookworms and students. And as someone who is both of these things, I am always happy to suggest that people explore reading if that’s not something that they’re already doing. But reading isn’t for everyone, and libraries aren’t just for reading. In reality, they are so much more than that. A library offers services that can benefit everyone in a community.
These services are oftentimes great tools for many different hobbies. To those who are interested in learning more about their town, libraries offer information about genealogy and local history. To those that are artistically inclined, some offer services such as 3D printing and laser cutting. Some libraries, such as one public library in Tennessee, even go as far as to offer recording studios.
Libraries are also places that foster community and connection. They host events and meetings for a variety of different clubs. The Monroe County Public Library provides tutoring for adults through its VITAL program, as well as El Centro Comunal Latino, a community organization that provides a safe space for Latinos.
Perhaps the most important thing a library can offer, however, is access to the internet. Almost all libraries have free Wi-Fi available, and this service is vital to helping those in a community have access to information. In the digital age, it’s nearly impossible to make a living without being connected to the internet, and libraries are places where people who cannot afford their own internet can receive both the personal and professional benefits it provides.
Despite the myriad of services available at libraries, libraries in America are underfunded and underused. As recently as 2015, libraries in New York City were struggling to get their needed funding, and a Pew Research survey published in 2016 shows that less than half of Americans visited a public library in the prior year.
As the world becomes increasingly digitized, it would seem that people are beginning to view libraries as obsolete. It is vital that we as citizens of our communities fight back against this completely wrong and dangerous assumption.
There are a number of ways that we can show appreciation for libraries. The easiest and most common sense way of supporting a library is, of course, using it. Use it as a place to study or a place to sit down and read. Most libraries offer magazines, if you’re not up for starting a book. Go to the events that the library offers, or join a club.
Another way you can help is by donating. Libraries accept both monetary donations as well as book donations.
And finally, you can help by connecting those you know with your local library. Tell your friends to use it, and if you have children, consider taking them there and letting them explore. Most libraries offer a ton of fun services for kids. Not only will you be supporting your library in a practical sense by doing this, but you’ll also be contributing to the strong sense of community that exists there.
As libraries begin to reopen, let’s take a step back and appreciate just how awesome they are. They are an incredibly important part of any community, and they deserve all our love and support.
Molly Hayes (she/her) is a junior studying English. She plans to earn a Master of Library Science.