Our democracy is made up of federal, state, and local governments. Local and state government is often a microcosm of federal government. Laws and regulations are made and enforced. Each branch comes with different duties and responsibilities. Specific agencies and departments fulfill defined functions. And like thee diagram of a cell cycle, if you insert or take out a piece, the larger unit is changed. OK, Civics 101 lesson is over.
With all of units of government surrounding us, which would you say is the most important? Which is the most integral to people? My vote goes to the public library. In my community, the public library is a part of county government. Libraries can also be state institutions. And the largest library in the world—the Library of Congress—is a federal institution. But all are funded with tax revenue.
I’ll explain why I think libraries are the most important institutions in government, but first let me tell you why this subject popped up in my brain. You see, recently my regular library closed for approximately two weeks while they moved to a newly built building. I visit my library branch two to three times a month. More when I’m a tangent for new knowledge, new authors, or self-improvement. I generally have something on hold.
To say I felt a sense of loss during this transition would be accurate. Some people, including members of my family, wouldn’t understand. They would be unable to tell you where their local library was located without the help of Google Maps. Oh well, their loss.
Did I fear not having anything to read? Hardly. I have stacks of books in my house that I haven’t got around to reading yet. I generally include independent bookstores in my travels. If I quit borrowing books from the library, the stacks would undoubtedly shrink. But I find the idea of having nothing to read so horrifying that I have stocked up for the apocalypse. I also have access to two nearby branches of my public library plus two university libraries where I do research.
Feeling the temporary loss of my home library even while having plenty to read led me to examine the importance of libraries. Here are my top 10 reasons that public libraries should win the award for most important government institution:
10. Libraries provide a place for safe social interaction. Groups can reserve meeting rooms. Tutoring can take place. You’ll also find book groups and story time.
9. According to the American Library Association (ALA), 73% of public libraries provide assistance with job applications and interviewing skills.
8. Librarians can answer your questions. Most public libraries have reference librarians whose job is to help locate the answers. According to the ALA, reference librarians answer over 6.5 million questions…per week.
7. Free computer use, Internet, and job resources are available at public libraries.
6. Libraries support English language learning and literacy. Learning to read is a right, but too many people fall in the cracks. Libraries fill the gaps.
5. Libraries add to a community’s quality of life. These institutions support cultural engagement. They often offers classes for everything from technology to fitness.
4. Libraries open their doors to underserved populations. They shelter people from the elements while offering learning and entertainment.
3. Libraries support truth. They fight misinformation.
2. Libraries are free. You can check out books, kits, movies, and more at no cost. You can even borrow from other libraries through interlibrary loan programs.
1. Libraries support learning. Need to know how to market your business, explore new careers, or the history of your region? Have a project at school or work that’s kicking your butt? Your library has the answers.
The United States has more than 9,000 public libraries. Sadly, the number has dropped in the past ten years. When you look at the world’s per capita rate of public libraries, the United States doesn’t even break the top 10 (spoiler alert: most of the top ten are in Eastern Europe!).
They are a community where everyone is welcome. Libraries do not discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomics, or age. And more so than any other government agency, libraries have evolved to meet the needs of people they serve.
My library reopened this week. The new library is very modern looking, which didn’t immediately thrill me. But there is lots of natural light and windows that look out over our small city. Cozy alcoves invite you to stay awhile and read. And there’s plenty of room for growth. Because libraries, like people, need to grow.