From the time I was old enough to enjoy being read to, libraries have been important to me. Books were not high among the budget priorities in my family. Had our single mother won the lottery, we would have run right down to the book store and bought boxes of books.
That never happened. She bought no lottery tickets. We had no extra money. Our town had no book store. We did have a library.
We also had an insatiable appetite for books. Once my brother and I could read for ourselves, we haunted the local library. Carrying a stack of books to the check-out desk, we felt wealthy.
That’s the thing about libraries. Everyone has access to information and pleasure, not just those with fat bank accounts.
Public libraries have a short history, and it started in the U.S. in 1833. By then Europe had a 100-year history of subscription libraries, but it was Abiel Abbot, a Unitarian minister in Peterborough, New Hampshire who had the radical idea of making a collection of books available to the public with no charge. Wikipedia says that first library was in Smith and Thompson’s General Store, along with the post office.
The idea caught on, and by 1910 every state had public libraries. According to David Morris’s Public Library Manifesto, today there are more libraries than Starbucks or McDonalds.
I still love libraries. I even became a librarian, thanks to the graduate program at the University of Washington. My career path wandered, but my appreciation for libraries never wavered.
Except for the years when I was farming in the heart of British Columbia, I have always lived within walking distance of a library. I make good use of them. Just yesterday I walked over to the library to pick up a book I had ordered online.
Some people worry that e-books and e-readers will bring an end to support for libraries. I don’t think that will happen, any more than computers and other media did. I believe public libraries are sturdier than that.
We will need to be vigilant but not because support will waver. We just have to keep an eye on politicians who keep whacking back our common holdings in order to avoid taxing the very rich.
From what I see and read and hear, support for public libraries remains strong and vocal. And that gives me hope.