Library Love by Mike Hays
Don’t you just love libraries? I know, dumb question for the Nerdy Book Club nation, but don’t you? I am a fan of the library, especially my local library, the Clay Center (KS) Carnegie Library.
I fondly remember my branch library in my childhood hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. I remember the smell, the quiet, and the not being able to fathom how many books there must be in the world if we could have this many books in our little library. I was fascinated by the old-school checkout card machine where the librarian would masterfully align and feed the three cards into a slot and the due date was printed on each card. The card stack exited from another slot and the librarian would insert them into the books. It was magic. I was happy I came from a big family so I could watch the librarian run the cards from the giant stack of Hays family books. The sound of that old machine was music to my ears.
I was a husky, could-not-sit-still, introverted, slow-developing reader of a boy. Without a tremendous amount of help and patience from the adults in my young academic life, I may never have grown up a reader. I still liked the library, though. I liked to graze the shelves looking at the book spines, book covers, and flipping through the pictures. I am a better reader now, but roaming and searching the book stacks is still a favorite activity.
One of the earliest memories of being completely, totally PO’d in my life was when I was about six or seven and my onerous older brother told the librarian I probably lied and didn’t read all of the four or five books (a major accomplishment for me at the time) I’d listed on my summer reading program sheet. I remember the sheet vividly; it had a drawing of a genie riding a magic carpet on the top and blank lines for what seems like 50 books. I will never forget the look the librarian gave me when she thought I had cheated. I was so embarrassed and so mad at the possibility my first real reading success might melt right before my eyes, I crumpled into a ball on the library floor and had to be dragged out wailing and screaming.
I had the honor earlier this year to be the keynote speaker at our local Friends of the Library annual meeting. It floored me to be invited to speak as a writer. I talked about libraries, the role of libraries in the 21st century, eBooks and the middle grade book I wrote called THE YOUNGER DAYS. Through this wonderful opportunity, I attempted to convey how important lending libraries are to a community, regardless of size.
I believe libraries and museums are two vital community institutions. No other community institution, be it police, fire, or city hall, reflects a community like the library and the local museum. These two cultural institutions define the collective communities we live in; they tell us:
Who we were as a community – our history and past is defined in the collections.
Who we are now – our present values are defined in the current acquisitions and direction.
Where we need to go – our core community values serve as an anchor for future decision-making.
Libraries are a center of gravity in our communities. The early leaders of our country knew the importance of knowledge to the dream of democracy. In a second floor room of Carpenter Hall in Philadelphia, just a floor above the room where the first treasonous talks between the traitors to the crown took place, Benjamin Franklin started one of our first new world lending libraries.
“It (the library) was Ben Franklin’s idea. At the very beginning comes the idea of learning, of books, of ideas.” – Historian David McCullough.
Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s personal philosophy revolved around the importance of knowledge to the self-made man, knowledge gained through books. Through his donations and foundation, almost 1700 libraries were started in the United States. The Carnegie Foundation set the standards and groundwork for community lending libraries for the common man. One of the more interesting innovations of the Carnegie Library was the establishment of the open stacks, where patrons could browse the books themselves. Previously, the patron had to rely on a librarian to retrieve a requested book from the stacks located behind the counter. The true library for the common man was established through Andrew Carnegie’s vision and access to knowledge made more accessible than it had ever been.
With the rise of the digital world, some tend to think the library is a dinosaur. To the contrary, libraries are as important and will be as important as ever in the 21st Century. Libraries will serve will not only to provide access to physical knowledge, but to digital knowledge, as well.
Libraries serve a major role in our society. Below is an ALA list of recommended minimal functions of a library.
- Provide access to catalogs
- Provide reference service
- Offer reader advice
- Provide access to technology & the Internet
- Serve children
- Serve teenagers and young adults
- Serve adults
- Provide exhibit space and offer exhibits
- Provide reading rooms
- Provide meeting rooms/convene meetings
- Serve as a community center
- Serve as a community symbol
As we dive into the digital age, providing access to technology & the internet quickly becomes a very important function of a library. Libraries will increasingly be hubs for access and training in digital media, becoming a major weapon in the fight to reduce society’s digital divide. Look at these recent numbers from the Institute of Museum and Library Services:
67% of libraries offer access to e-books.
64% are the only source of free Internet access in their communities
169 million people used one of 16,000 public libraries in the study year; 77 million of them used a library computer
86% of public libraries provide free Wi-Fi
In their report, Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, the ALA defines four major issues on which a library’s staff, a library’s board, and a library’s patrons must define a balance as they form a plan to move into the digital age.
They must find a balance between how much of a physical and how much of a virtual library they want to be.
A balance must be found between serving the individual and the community.
Develop a philosophy and implement practices that balance being a collections library and a creations library.
Finally, a library must find the best fit within their budget, patron needs, and infrastructure to balance their role as a portal for information and/or a site for archived information.
The intersection where all these decisions overlap will determine the sweet spot of a library’s future direction.
I love libraries. Big libraries, medium-size libraries, school libraries, university libraries, technical libraries, small-town libraries, or a small birdhouse sized wooden box in someone’s front yard to exchange books, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is the access.
What matters is the content.
What matters is the reader.
Update: I have successfully gone over forty years without breaking down in a sobbing mass of goo on the library carpet, but my poor wife still has to drag me out of the library on occasion.
Levien, Roger E., Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, Policy Brief No. 4, June 2011.
Miller, Elizabeth R., Exploring the role of the 21st century library in the age of e-books and online content. Knight Blog, February 25, 2012.
Mike Hays is a husband, father, and microbiologist from Kansas. Besides writing, he has been a high school strength and conditioning coach, a football coach and a baseball coach. He writes from a boy’s point of view and hopes to spread his particular style of stupid-funny inspiration through his books, blogs and social media.
His debut upper middle grade historical fiction novel, THE YOUNGER DAYS, was released by the MuseItYoung imprint of MuseItUp Publishing in March of 2012 and was the recipient of a 2012 Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval Award. He can be found stuck in the web at: www.coachhays.com or www.mikehaysbooks.wordpress.com, @coachhays64 on Twitter, and http://www.facebook.com/MikeHaysBooks