I’ve been spending a lot of time lately at the Salisbury Public Library. I often like to say that I grew up there — as far back as I can remember, my mom brought me to the library. If I mention this fact at the library, Terry the director will usually correct me and say I was in fact born at the library.
We’re currently in the process of trying to get approval for a new building. The library is tiny, and has been out of space for over 30 years now. A previous attempt at expanding in 1984 never made it to
fruition, and it’s been run to its limits since. If you’re from Salisbury and a registered voter, I’d definitely encourage you to vote “Yes” for the library, but that’s not what this post is about necessarily.
As part of the campaign, we’ve had to address a lot of questions about our library in particular, but also about libraries in general. The one that keeps coming up is whether libraries still have a place in our society.
I understand where this question comes from; I’ve worked in web tech and I spend 10-plus hours a day in front of a computer. The argument goes that as everything is becoming digital, the need for libraries is diminishing and will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. Quite simply, that isn’t true. And I’ll explain why, in two words.
We live in an information society. Our economy is no longer driven by manufacturing and manual labor (although they are still essential elements to a stable economy) but rather by knowledge and information. Each year more jobs and more commerce are created by the flow of information, and this all requires education. Libraries are an integral part of education.
“It’s not just about the books.” This is a phrase we use a lot in Salisbury. Libraries will always have books, and there will always be nostalgic geeks like me who prefer the feel of a book in their hands, the smell of old paper and the thought of older knowledge. But libraries are so much more now.
Libraries offer help with job hunting, taxes, computer education, help with e-readers and tablets. Even if book circulation were going down (which it isn’t) libraries don’t just circulate books. They circulate information. And no matter what form it takes, there will always be information to circulate.
But that’s not all that libraries do now. The diversity of our society is what makes the U.S. such a robust nation, with many different cultures living together. Libraries bridge all demographics. Age, race, culture, religion, socioeconomic status — none of these matter at a library. People come together at libraries and enjoy all sorts of programming. At Salisbury our mission statement is to provide ALL members of the community with information, education, recreation.
We have book discussion groups, children’s programming, book sales, guest lecturers. But we could provide so much more. And we can provide more.
We don’t need fewer libraries or smaller libraries. We need bigger, better libraries to ensure that everyone has access to the culture, the education, and the information that makes our society better.
So are libraries still important? Libraries are more important than ever.
Joseph W. Stucker is a Salisbury Public Library trustee.