For a long time, I’ve had a pretty serious crush on libraries. Just about every time I see a bookshelf, I tend to stand there a bit and gawk. I distinctly remember visiting a library for the first time after being abroad for a couple of years. It was both overwhelming and exhilarating – to be surrounded by multiple lifetime’s worth of experiences, wisdom and information. We usually take them for granted.
Today I want to outline 4 reasons public libraries in particular are worthy of your patronage and adoration:
- Public libraries are a respite for the poor. Jesus was unabashedly concerned with those at the margins of society, continually showing unique attention to lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Public libraries often provide a resting place for those most marginalized in our society – a free space to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, surf the internet, and enjoy air conditioning, not to mention limitless information. For someone with mental illness or unable to hold a job, such public spaces are an oasis of relief and an invaluable resource for information and needed connection.
- Public libraries (can) facilitate interaction between socio-economic classes. It is rare for the rich and poor to meet. More and more, real estate (and prejudice) push these groups apart. If Christians are serious about being like Jesus, it seems logical to assume we would have at least some interaction with the most marginalized, and the library is a great place to meet folks you normally wouldn’t. There are fears that accompany mental illness and homelessness – the truth is most are friendly, caring, and lonely. Everyone would be blessed by more interaction between these groups, for children and adults. Although their presence can reinforce stigma and fear, police officers are also often around, so it’s probably one of the safest ways to interact. Go regularly and with a little luck, you could build a relationship not centered on giving and receiving.
- Public libraries teach delayed gratification (aka patience). Learning delayed gratification is an important step in the maturity process and yet, we are bombarded with the belief that your desires ought to be satisfied immediately. Think of popular slogans, such as Nike’s “Just do it” or Burger King’s “Have it your way.” Or consider how we usually consume books, movies, and music – instantly streaming, downloading, or two-day shipping them. You can find almost any book, movie, and even a lot of music through your library and it’s free! It just takes time, a little planning, and some patience. (For the obscure books, try inter-library loan.)
- Public libraries epitomize the power of sharing. Think about that bookshelf or collection of movies at home. How often are they being used? If you’re like me, most just sit on the shelf 99% of the time. They often just collect dust and become a monument to your pride. As a general principle, I try to buy books only after I can’t find them somewhere else or I’m sure to read or share them more than twice. Imagine if you and all your friends had an online catalog where you could share your books together, and there was someone to organize, help out, and keep people accountable — you’d have a library! 🙂 Personal property is often idolized. Sharing your things creates community, reduces waste, and can be fun.
Welp – there you have it. Random plug for one of the best institutions I know of.
There are downsides to public libraries, of course. To briefly address a few: 1) They are expensive to run. However, I do feel that for the reasons listed above, the benefits outweigh the financial costs. 2) Libraries are sometimes underutilized, which is a shame. Better marketing might help. And 3) despite the countless ways the internet has affected society, I do believe there is still an important place for books and therefore libraries. How can we undervalue limitless learning possibilities?!