Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: Why We Love Public Libraries

Public Libraries, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways …

Recently I’ve been spending a lot more time in the public library than I have in quite awhile and its reminded me just how very very much I love public libraries. Here I sit on a Sunday afternoon, in one of these little student desks at the Southside branch of the Santa Fe Public Library system. There’s air conditioning, quiet, peace, comfy chairs, a few thousand books, and a place for everybody – heaven.

I used to work in a library, Boulder Public, the main branch downtown. It was a great job – clocking in to spend my hours sorting books and shelving, helping the occasional lost patron find something. The Boulder library was a haven for all sorts of people, from tourists who needed some water and directions, to high school students studying for exams, to a whole range of homeless people who had no where else to go to stay warm or wash their hair.

Over the years I’ve traveled and lived in quite a number of cities and states across the country, and everywhere I go, the public library is one of the first places I look for. More than once in my life public libraries have been my only source for access to Wi-Fi and entertainment. In Wisconsin the library systems were all tied together, and from a tiny little public library in rural Reedsburg, I could request books from all over the state, including the better stocked libraries in Madison.

The obvious reason that I love libraries of course is the books. I’m never going to be able to buy all the books I want to read – so here at the library I can stretch my knowledge and find new and old works to add to my list. But there is more to my love of libraries than that …

For those without computers or the money to pay those exorbitant cable/internet fees – the library is a place where we can get online, find resources, look for jobs, print out resumes, email friends. And there’s the access to entertainment too – just last night we checked out a great movie we’d never seen before by Francis Ford Coppola. And there’s the people – a librarian can help you find the information you need or connect you to resources. There’s the kid’s section – without which I know my childhood would have been a lot less fun. Do you remember summers as a kid, making a weekly trip to the library for a huge stack of books? And there’s library programs – the magician here at Southside yesterday, speakers on local environmental issues, the occasional local author giving a reading. And there’s space – rooms to be reserved for community groups to meet or groups of students to study.

But most of all I think I love libraries because they are truly public. It’s a place to rest, to sit, to read, to work, to get out of the heat, to learn – and everybody is welcome. To my mind public libraries are at the pinnacle of civilization, the best of what we can do together.

Why do you love libraries?

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