by Mary Kate Laphen, CEO, Merrickville Public Library
When I was asked to write about the role of libraries in the community, I was at a bit of a loss. I’ve been a librarian for over 25 years, so I feel the importance of libraries right down to my socks – but it can be hard to put into words. However, let’s try…
The heart of the Library’s role in the community is its mission to connect people with information and opportunities to learn – through books and other media, the internet, programs, and more – and encouraging the literacy skills and supports needed for that. Libraries are about all sorts of literacy and media, but even in our Netflix/YouTube/TikTok world, reading is still a fundamental way that information is conveyed.
Reading (however you do it) gives endless opportunities to learn and increase our understanding. It also has personal and social benefits beyond increasing knowledge: exercising the brain, improving focus and memory, reducing stress, increasing empathy, and it’s the single best thing you can do with your child to promote school success. All of this is so important in our information-based world, and public libraries are the way that our society demonstrates its commitment to making this freely available to everyone. And how great is it that we live in a place that values this access enough to make it a law (the Public Libraries Act)?
So, libraries are about connecting to information, but today’s libraries offer so many other things (check your library’s website and you’ll see what I mean). Beyond that, libraries are valuable to, and valued by, their communities because they are here to help. We help people every day. Sometimes, it’s something minor, like printing an email, or a giving a book recommendation; but sometimes it’s quite important and meaningful for them.
Not long ago, a woman came in looking for audiobooks for her elderly father who loved to read but was no longer able to. I told her about our DAISY reader for the visually impaired, let her borrow our demo machine, and picked out some titles to suit his rather particular interests. She ended up asking to keep it for longer than the usual loan period. When she brought it back, she told me that her father had died, but that he really appreciated the reader and it had let him enjoy books right to the end. She said how much it meant to her that she had been able to do this for him.
Libraries may not be the go-to in an emergency (although they can be pretty useful in a pandemic lockdown), but the Library is here to help you. To help you find information, continue to learn, develop, or maintain literacy skills, to enjoy yourself (also important) – and to provide a welcoming space for you to do those things. The Library is a service for everyone, but is also entirely personalized. Even a small library offers a wide range of services that every user adapts into their own custom experience.
On a personal note, the thing I value most about libraries is that they add a little more happiness to life. Browsing at the library and finding a good book (or video, or…), getting a call that the book you were waiting for is ready for you, letting your child loose in the kids’ department to bring home whatever they like, creating something, or just having fun at a library activity – I never get tired of helping make those moments happen. The Library is all about making life a little bit better –and what’s not valuable about that?