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Libraries are great places to find shared interests

Brenda Marshall

In 2022, Pine River Library staff members met with more than 70 local residents and community leaders to ask a couple of questions. The first was, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing your friends and neighbors right now? The second, what are your hopes and dreams for our community?

Several issues quickly rose to the top of the pile. I don’t think you will be surprised when I tell you that people were worried about isolation, division, affordability, growth, mental health and lack of opportunity.

One thing we heard over and over was a heartfelt desire for connection, to overcome the barriers of politics and opinions, to simply be able to sit side by side with people we don’t necessarily agree with. We heard variations of this theme from young and old, left and right, old-timer and newcomer. People shared how breakdowns in their relationships with friends and family were exacerbated by the physical separation of the pandemic. There was also talk of our society’s inclination to lean more heavily on social media.

As we look to the future of our library we are using this information to shape some of our planning. Libraries hold dear the fundamental principle that we are places where everybody of all experiences and identities should be welcomed. We strive to offer the same level of service to everyone. In the same way that we vehemently defend your right to read whatever you want, we also support your right to your own opinions and beliefs.

We also grieve the separation and partisanship that has blighted our community, and we offer programs that allow people to gather together face to face at the library. Several of our monthly programs allow participants to come together around topics such as books, child care, Spanish conversation, or even mortality and dying at the Death Café. We find ourselves sharing deeply and honestly, despite the fact that others may find some aspect of our views objectionable. Tackling a project together such as weeding the community garden or learning how to quilt allows us the same companionship. We are lucky to have volunteers leading exercise classes; it is hard to despise someone you have been working out next to for months! These programs allow us to share the everyday experiences that connect all of us. When we know about one another’s pets, for example, or favorite book, or hear about their daily challenges, we see a different side to them – and they to us.

It might not be comfortable to get back out there and rub shoulders with one another, but I believe our wonderful county libraries might be one of the best places to start. Let’s work to find our shared interests and ways to relate. It’s sometimes a rocky road with potential potholes along the way but I believe the view from the top will be worth it.

Brenda Marshall is director of Pine River Library.