Recently, I was reminded of the benefits of reading; the solace, the information, the escape or the sense of finding oneself. And I thought, too, of all the things the library can do as well. Often when talking with people who don’t frequent the library, I’m asked (with noticeable surprise) “can a library do that?” And so, in response I’d like to say, yes, a library can do that.
A library can bring people together. Folks with similar ideas and interests as in art groups, reading groups and maker spaces gather to share, learn and improve their craft. Those with differing points of view come together in civil conversation, for instance, when libraries have offered speakers and discussions about controversial topics such as wolves in Colorado or water rights. Libraries are a place for parents of young children to come together for sharing and support. They can be a safe gathering place for teens and young adults for gaming and computer use.
A library can supply information. This is likely the most common perception of libraries. Sometimes, a patron is looking for just the right book. Often library staff members can point to a database or other resource that can help move a project forward, resolve an issue or build understanding. In Ignacio in April, we highlighted autism awareness, celebrated poetry and hosted a display featuring information about missing and murdered Indigenous people. We offer basic tech assistance on a wide variety of software and devices. And we offer large-print books and other materials for folks who need more specialized materials because of vision or other physical challenges.
Libraries can help entrepreneurs start up a business, inventors research copyright and budding artists get their start. They can help the mom whose child struggles with reading and the out-of-work citizen improve technology skills and build a resume. In addition, libraries offer these services and more equally to all, very often at little or no cost. Libraries can be a great equalizer, offering wonderful quality services and materials to everyone. By being available to all, libraries are instrumental in supporting democracy by helping create a more literate and just society.
Here in Ignacio, the library recently partnered with the local school district, the ELHI community center, a local Christian school and the Southern Ute Montessori Academy to bring a “one read” to the community. Using the books, “We’re All Wonders” and “Wonder” by J.R. Palacio, we offered classroom sets, teacher support materials and a poetry contest. All this to support literacy and our community. If you aren’t familiar with the books, please stop by one of your four La Plata County libraries and check them out. They offer a wonderful sentiment, especially in unsettling times.
So, in response to the question, “Can the library do that?” I would generally have to say, “Sure, your library can do that!”
Marcia Vining is director of Ignacio Community Library.