5 Reasons Why Libraries Are the Greatest

Today is the last day of National Library Week. I’ve been working in libraries for nearly 18 years, and before that, I was (and still am!) a frequent patron. Libraries have always been important to me, so today, I’m sharing five reasons why I love them.

People studying in a large library
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Libraries Provide Shelter

Libraries are one of the few public spaces where a person can spend several hours indoors without spending any money. This shelter is invaluable for unhoused people, especially in extreme weather, because libraries offer air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. Housed patrons might need the library when their A/C quits or they can’t afford their heating bill. When we think about libraries, we often think about the books and other items they circulate, but the building is vital for much more than just holding the collection.

A man sitting and reading a book in a library aisle
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Libraries Provide Equity

If you make $20,000 a year, you can visit a library and check out as much as they let you. You can do the same thing if you make $120,000 a year. The library has something to offer you regardless of your income, beliefs, or interests. For those who are physically unable to visit the library in person, you can download books, audiobooks, and other forms of media online. One of my local libraries has been working on expanding its world language section so patrons who don’t speak English can still come to the library and leave with a book in their native tongue. Many organizations are becoming fine-free so more patrons have access to materials. Libraries should be for everyone and provide equitable opportunities for people to explore and learn.

A little boy stands next to a woman who's reading to him
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Libraries Have Something for All Ages

Another reason I love libraries is that they’re intergenerational. Babies and toddlers are welcome at my local branch’s Baby Lapsit Storytime, while retirees can attend midday book clubs or volunteer. There are programs for kids, teens, and young adults. Specialty programs are often offered to homeschoolers, gardeners, gamers, bakers, and writers. The public library where I worked for several years hosted chess tournaments, LEGO play nights, free tax help, and yoga classes. Whether a person is just learning to read or has been reading for decades, libraries offer programs and materials for people in every phase of life.

Libraries Provide More than Books

Libraries would still be amazing if they only stocked books, but modern libraries offer much more. In addition to DVDs and magazines, my local library districts allow people to check out:

  • Guitars
  • Telescopes
  • Podcast equipment
  • Museum and park passes
  • Book club kits
  • Preschool learning kits
  • Instant Pots
  • Blood pressure kits
  • Tools to digitize photos, cassette tapes, and VHS tapes
  • Blocks
  • Video and digital cameras
  • TVs
  • Sewing machines
  • Hotspots
  • Games

I’ve heard of other libraries checking out prom dresses, interview clothing, and cake pans. My university library has support dogs come visit during finals week for stressed students. Isn’t that incredible? I’ve loved watching libraries evolve and am excited to see what they’ll offer next.

A woman looks down at the book she's reading
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Libraries Provide Books, Too

Yes, libraries still have books. The books are why I go to libraries as often as I do (that, and to earn my paychecks). I’ve discovered countless books through the years, thanks to public libraries. I still get excited to walk inside with my tote bag where I’ll place anything that looks interesting, the same thing I did as a little kid. If a person wants a classic novel, the library will have it. If you want a book that’s out of print, a librarian can use the magical powers of the interlibrary loan system to find a copy. From board books to the latest bestseller, libraries have kept communities informed, entertained, and well-read for as long as they’ve been around. I couldn’t be more grateful for the books I’ve found on library shelves.

A thank you card sits next to a pen
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It’s Your Turn to Share

Because of book bans and threats against library staff happening in the United States right now, libraries and their employees need your support more than ever. National Library Week is coming to a close, but please consider sharing some library love over the next few days. Write a note to your favorite library staffer. If you’re a parent, let your child’s principal know how much you appreciate the school library and what it offers your kids. Share this post and include reasons why you love libraries. Tag your local libraries on social media and tell your followers why they’re so great. There are many ways to express your appreciation for libraries, so pick one and give library workers the boost they need right now.

I’m off to finish that library eBook that expires in two days.

All Stories Matter: On Book Bans and Silence

On March 23, the American Library Association announced a 38% increase in book bans from 2021 to 2022. That equals 2,571 unique titles, compared to 377 titles in 2019. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Once again, the vast majority of works challenged were written by or about members of the LGBTQ community and people of color; 58% of reported challenges targeted works in schools and 41% targeted materials in public libraries.” These statistics should alarm all of us, but they hit me especially hard because of my job.

Think before you speak. Read before you think.
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

My work in high school libraries involves many tasks, including cataloging, reference help, marketing, and collection development. All of that matters, but what’s most important to me is putting the right book in front of the right person at the right time. A book can entertain or enlighten us, but literature’s greatest gift is when it shows us who we are and who we can become. There’s something powerful and life-giving about seeing your story reflected in a book because it’s a sign that you matter. That’s why intellectual freedom is so important. 

I’ve been working in libraries for 18 years, and one of the first things I remember learning is that, as a library employee, you do not judge the books people are checking out. You do not criticize, question, or make it difficult for people to access library materials. In 2022, the American Library Association commissioned a poll that revealed 71% of voters–Democrats, Republicans, and Independents–reject book bans. Sometimes it seems like Americans can’t find common ground on anything, yet we see here that the freedom to read has bipartisan support. If that’s true, why are book bans rising? The yelling of a few is drowning out the silence of the majority, and silence is the ultimate goal of those who want to ban books. 

As I’ve thought about these issues, I wondered what causes a person to become furious about a book, perhaps even a book they’ve not even bothered to read. I think the heart of the matter comes down to fear and power. A person might fear someone who doesn’t look like them, live like them, or believe like them because those people might take some of their power. When your story has been the predominant one, you might resent it when others finally become part of the narrative.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that all of the book-banning news has been hard because of my job, but it’s also been challenging to read because of my faith. Many of those trying to get books banned are doing so in the name of Jesus, and as a Christian, I find that abhorrent. Laypeople and scholars can debate many things regarding Scripture, but it’s abundantly clear that stories mattered to Jesus because he taught in parables. The company he kept included outcasts, thieves, sex workers, and liars. My faith matters to me because it’s a faith that flips everything on its head: the weak are made strong, the voiceless can speak, and the exiles get a seat at the table. When the Bible tells us about Jesus’s anger, it was directed toward religious elites who thought they had all the answers. The story of Jesus is scandalous because it includes those who had never been included before and takes back power from those who thought it belonged only to them. 

Because of my job and my faith, I disagree with those banning books on almost everything but this: books are powerful. But instead of being threatened by that I rejoice in it. I want all the students I serve to see themselves reflected in stories because they deserve to feel seen and valued. The misfits, the loners, the bullied, and the silenced have a home at the library. If you agree and are looking for ways to get involved, start with one of these things: 

  • Support your local libraries and library staff: You can do that by using your library card, attending programs, or sending a note to staff members expressing your appreciation.
  • Make some noise: If you live in a city or school district whose libraries are under attack, show up to public meetings. Help make sure that anger and bigotry don’t have the final word. 
  • Vote: Vote in favor of libraries and be informed about school board candidates. Support legislation and people who value intellectual freedom. 

What other steps can you take in order to ensure your freedom to read? What other ways can you support your local libraries? I’d love to hear your ideas! Thanks for reading mine.