Woster: All hail Library Week and librarians
A public library with its collection of books and other materials is essential for a thoughtful, educated citizenry.
Except for a school and maybe a grocery shop and a well-stocked hardware store, the most important place in a community just might be the public library.
I could make the argument that the library is more important than those other places, except for schools, where libraries nearly always are included.
I don’t say that because we are in the middle of National Library Week. It is simply true. A public library with its collection of books and other materials is essential for a thoughtful, educated citizenry. And I believe a thoughtful, educated citizenry is essential for a civilized society to function.
The theme of Library Week (April 23-29) is “There’s More to the Story.” In any modern library, that’s certainly true. In almost any library, you will find shelf after shelf of books — hard-cover and paperback, fiction and history and biography, scientific journals, car repair manuals and “how-to” volumes of all kinds. Somewhere in the building, you will find maps, often hung on the walls, rolled up like window shades with a drawstring to pull them down for viewing. And traditionally, there have been copies of daily and weekly newspapers.
But a library is far more than bound volumes of books, maps and newspapers. These days you are almost certain to find a selection of e-books, to be downloaded to your favorite electronic device. There will be a collection of books on tape or whatever they’re called these days, just right for long driving trips. Chances are you will see two or three rows of public-use computers with internet access, most likely high-speed connections.
I can recall many times when I would visit Rawlins Library in Pierre and see that all the public-use computers were occupied. They were so popular for a while that time limits had to be imposed. A sign-up sheet at the front desk tracked who was using each computer and when their time was up.
More than once in the early days of computers, I used the machines at public libraries to file stories from the road. I didn’t have cards to those libraries, but librarians are pretty helpful when it comes to any sort of information.
Odds are good that in most of today’s libraries there will be a meeting room, or more than one if the community is of a good size. Perhaps as you pass that room of an evening, you will see a guest author reading to a group of adults from the community. If you are visiting in the afternoon, maybe you will see a member of the library staff reading to groups of grade-school students. You might see a visiting artist doing a presentation with cameras or with paints and colored pencils.
I recall another visit to Rawlins in Pierre — a Saturday morning, I think it was — when I saw a group of young folks having a tea party with their dolls and reading to one another from a popular series of children’s books.
I have been an ardent fan of libraries since my first visit to the one in Chamberlain when I was barely old enough to read. As much as anyone else in my whole life, the library director, Miss Arp, kindled in me a fire for reading and an appreciation for the value of knowledge, whether I had an immediate use for it or not.
Miss Arp taught me a little about late fees in the process, but I never held that against her. The books weren’t mine to keep. The stories inside the covers were, though, and that’s what mattered.
Besides all the kinds of information libraries offer to the people of their communities, they serve another essential purpose. As much as anyone else I know — reporters, lawyers, First Amendment scholars, anyone — librarians fight for citizen’s access to books and other knowledge.
Every so often in this country, groups get together and decide certain books should be banned. If a book offends these people, they want to take it away from everyone else. Librarians battle the book-banning crowd. They tend to be soft-spoken warriors, but they are dedicated.
That’s one more reason to recognize National Library Week.