I have made no secret of my love of public libraries; I don’t know anyone who does any amount of recreational reading who doesn’t have some story of finding a book on a chance perusal of library shelves that affected their taste in years to come, or who needed some service offered by their local library in a time of need. These thoughts are a defense of sorts, an apologia general in favor of these institutions that benefit us all – even if you’ve never set foot in one yourself (you need to fix that, by the way – go to your library).
Public libraries are one of the single best ideas humanity has ever produced and successfully implemented. To have a public warehouse full of every printed media imaginable, with access granted freely to every person regardless of status or education, is an unambiguous boon to our collective lives, an uncomplicated and straightforward benefit to every single citizen. You can access – free of charge – a catalog of newspapers and magazines, nonfiction, fiction of every stripe, reference materials, maps, histories, movies, music, and more at your convenience. When I consider how much we collectively gain, how much is available to me personally, through these institutions, I genuinely marvel at the fact that something so wonderful, so powerful, is available to us all without costing anything to any individual beyond a small tax (a small tax, by the way, that I guarantee you don’t even notice).
And let us imagine that you are an unfortunate soul who doesn’t enjoy your library. Perhaps it is underfunded, perhaps you don’t like books (!!!), perhaps you live too far away from one to justify a trip – whatever the cause, let ‘s assume you don’t like your library, or at least that you don’t ever plan to make use of your library. It’s still a benefit to you to have it open so that others can use it. Maybe your doctor used a library for a quiet study location when she was in school, or maybe your mechanic used his library as a resource as a child and got interested in cars. Anyone who has to learn anything – that is to say, everyone – benefits from the existence of these places.
Some scoff at libraries as old fashioned or obsolete. “We have the internet,” they say. “Why would we still need these spaces?” To this skeptic, I offer three rebuttals.
There will always be a place for libraries, and there always should be. Any system or development that ends up without free public libraries is a bad system, and would be unacceptable to ever implement.
I walked into my local library yesterday because I needed a DVD of a film I planned to show in class. The library, of course, had the movie. While I was there, I passed by a display of books on beekeeping. Why was it there? Was it merely seasonal? Did one of our librarians have an interest in apiarian pursuits? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. It was good to see the book about bees and how to tend them.
I passed by a manga version of Macbeth. I pulled it from the shelf, and flipped through it. It was great! I put it into the "return if you're not checking out" bin. Nobody hassled me at any point during any of this. No one tried to make me pay money for anything, no one tried to sell me anything, no one told me to leave my seat. I was able to be at peace in public enjoying a wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite stories, and this is available to me every day.
I love my library. I hope you do too.
That's all from me, for now.
Tell your story!
-J. E. Ayers
Jeff Ayers writes books that are pretty good.