Libraries: the great equalizers
That’s why, especially in a lower-income area like ours, the argument that we are entering a digital age is not an argument against libraries; quite the contrary. Libraries may be the one place that allows the poorer portions of the population to keep up. For a significant part of a rural population like ours, libraries may provide the only access to the internet, or at least the only access to broadband. And thanks to a $244,500 grant from the New York State Library Broadband Technology Program Grant Project, the WSPL has been able to markedly increase that access. This is particularly important in times of high unemployment. As library director Susan Scott (who resigned back in February), said at the time the grant was announced, “The digital education component is something we truly wanted to realize, as it is the one of the skill sets most desired by prospective employers. Libraries have always benefited by providing for their communities in need, even when in need themselves.”
Libraries do even more for the communities they serve. Libraries function as the hub for access to a great variety of free programs. Our youngest citizens are lovingly introduced to the magic that arises in the interaction between the imagination and the printed page. Older children and adults can participate in activities ranging from book discussion groups to poetry performances to workshops on cooking or coping with stressful times like these. In such interactions, fresh ideas are shared, relationships are formed and communities are strengthened. Libraries can even help to shape community perspectives. Our local branch has made it easier for residents to transition to more sustainable lifestyles by developing a collection of books and other materials on this topic.
In a country where an increasingly large proportion of the population is being cut off from goods and services ranging from health care to movie tickets, a venue like the public library that opens its riches to all is more important than ever. Maintaining a strong public library system cannot by itself solve the problem of increasing inequality in America, which has become endemic to our political and economic systems. But it is one of the few places that withstand the tide. Here we are all still equal, and can all be part of the human conversation in its many forms no matter how much or how little money we have. The public funding of libraries is an investment in our democracy, our communities and our future. None of those is something we should be cutting back on.