By: Sheila Hoffmeyer, President
For: Red Rock News
Date: January 15, 2010
How Your Library Benefits the Community
Linda Allen, a Sedona resident and volunteer at circulation at the Sedona Public Library, presented the following talk at a New York State Legislative breakfast for local area politicians, including her New York State assembly and senate representatives. We wanted to share her thoughts with you because they apply to libraries everywhere. In addition to the points she makes, your library supports Sedona’s economic growth goals. “I’m continually amazed by the number of new residents applying for library cards that tell me the library was a major factor in their decision to move to Sedona,” said Diane Schwilling, a volunteer who works weekly at circulation. “We’re also an important stop for visitors who access their email, print their boarding passes, seek reference help or obtain a temporary library card. There is no question that the library helps fuel our local economy.” Here are Linda’s remarks:
I am pretty passionate about libraries so you have to forgive me if I sound just a little bit preachy this morning. Many of the other people here today can and will tell you about the steadily increasing number of people who use public libraries and the steadily decreasing public financial support. They will provide you all the statistics. I want to talk with you about the less tangible benefits of libraries and the effect of those benefits on the community as a whole.
Libraries are educational institutions, every bit as critical to the education of the citizenry as schools and colleges. And while all schools and colleges have libraries, these collections are geared to the specific students and course offerings of those institutions. Public libraries are for everyone at every stage of their life.
Libraries provide meeting space for a variety of community groups. But more importantly, libraries offer neutral ground for opposing groups and for the discussion of difficult and controversial community topics.
Libraries level the playing field. Everyone entering a public library has the same access to knowledge as anyone else. There are no eligibility requirements, no income levels, no criteria, no screening committees, no admission forms. You don't have to be voted in and your SAT scores don't count here, even though you can study for your SAT test in any public library.
Libraries are one of the increasingly few places today where people can mix freely and equally; where the person looking for a job can learn how to write a decent resume and then do that with the free access computers; where parents who cannot afford to buy books can take their children; where children and adults can learn to read And it is by being a great leveler of society that libraries perform one of their greatest functions. Libraries are guardians of democracy. They perform this function by educating people; by providing the means for immigrants, a very large component of the local population, to learn to read and write English; to become educated about the government and to become acclimated to their new country.
They perform this function by storing history; the books, papers, diaries, records, newspapers, magazines, letters, music and film that tell the story of our lives. If the Smithsonian is the nation’s attic, every local public library is its town or city’s attic. And they also preserve democracy by serving as guardians of our First Amendment rights of free speech and free press. Librarians and libraries believe in the right of everyone to have free access to information, to read, to learn, to think and then to make up their own minds.
I have had the great pleasure and honor to speak at several legislative forums like this one about libraries. And the issue is always about money. Medicaid costs are rising; schools need more; roads need repair; hospitals are being squeezed and on and on. Elected officials have to make difficult decisions, no one is denying that. But you knew that when you decided to run for public office. I don’t know how each of you makes those decisions but I do have a suggested strategy for you. Consider the cost/benefit ratio of prevention. Prevention isn’t sexy, you can’t necessarily see it, or drive on it or have your picture taken with it. But prevention has one overwhelming benefit, prevention always costs less. Tax dollars spent on programs, services and institutions that educate people, bring disparate people together and support democratic institutions help prevent critical social problems before they reach the crisis stage and require far more tax dollars. As proof, just think about vaccines that prevent epidemics of disease. The cost of the vaccine is miniscule compared to the cost of an epidemic. I propose to you today that libraries are one of society’s vaccines that prevent an epidemic of ignorance, unemployment, illiteracy, crime, tyranny.
Thank you, Linda, for your passion and for sharing your thoughts on the value of libraries.
Sheila Hoffmeyer, author of this week's article,
is President of the Board of Trustees of the Sedona Public Library.
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News
and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.