It’s library month here in B.C., and there’s few institutions that deserve a month of celebration more than libraries.
During the earlier phases of the pandemic, we briefly lost our access to libraries and their many services, and that only shows how valued they were.
Libraries provide books for all ages of course, from picture books up to large-print books for people with visual impairment, fiction and non-fiction, new bestsellers to classics.
But beyond that, libraries serve as places for the community to connect.
There are kids programs and storytimes, there are book club meetings, there are computer classes. There is internet access for those who don’t have any of their own.
It’s a place for people to meet without spending any money, to browse without any expectation that they need to buy something, and to sit quietly.
Libraries can also be lifesaving – during the heat dome event, libraries were one of the places suggested as refuges during the day for those without air conditioning, and they’ve long been a haven for seniors to get out of the heat even during more normal times.
Libraries are one of the most purely altruistic institutions we have ever created. They are publicly funded and non-profit, the vast majority of their services are free, and they exist because we recognize that having access to a world of knowledge and literature is a positive community benefit, and should not be limited only to those with the money to build up private libraries of their own.
In recent years, there’s been an argument against libraries building, usually by those who haven’t used them in years – if at all.
They suggest that “everything is online” or that you can simply get any book you need from Amazon.
It’s an astonishingly short-sighted view that ignores the truth about libraries, the internet, and how people use both.
First of all, everything you need to know is not on the internet. The internet is great for news and fast updates, but it isn’t much of a place for depth. Even the deepest websites, like Wikipedia, can be seen as concise summaries of a vastly larger, dispersed pool of knowledge. And of course, much of that knowledge is to be found in books – what do you think all those articles are citing in the small print at the bottom?
Second, the idea that you can just buy any book you want is also wildly out of step with reality. Libraries – including university libraries and research libraries – contain books you simply can’t find on Amazon. Books that have been out of print for years – if not decades – books with minuscule print runs, local and regional histories, small press editions, and more are preserved by libraries.
And if you could find them for purchase, no one but a millionaire could afford to buy and accumulate all of them.
Libraries enable everyone, rich and poor, to have a world of books at their fingertips that would have been the envy of kings as little as a century ago.
If you haven’t been to the library lately, you should make time to visit. Sign up for a card, and check something out.
If you’re not sure what to try, ask a librarian. They’re always glad to see new people taking an interest in what libraries have to offer.