The existence of public libraries is not guaranteed. In fact, public libraries continue to operate against a mountain of odds that would suffocate a lesser field. Doors continue to open each day due to the hard scrabble administrators, local officials, front line staff, and librarians who are driven by a sense of mission far greater than paychecks or pensions. In my state of Pennsylvania, where public library funding accounts for 0.4% of the department of education budget, many public libraries operate as 501c3 nonprofit organizations.1 Fighting for dollars alongside other very worthy causes such as foodbanks, churches, and animal shelters. Only the lucky libraries have the backing of a local municipality.
While the financial security of public libraries varies grossly from zip code to zip code, what doesn’t change is the commitment of the staff inside. Library staff directly face both the harsh and beautiful realities of our world. Library work often means introducing kids to their favorite book, celebrating when a patron gets a job, and being a friendly face to welcome folks out of the summer heat and winter cold. Library work sometimes means administering Narcan to reverse a heroin overdose2, tactfully referring patrons to free showers and shelters3, or responding during a natural disaster4. Library work always means helping people.
We often get stuck focusing on what we need to change or how quickly we need to innovate. We’re driven by a fear of irrelevancy that causes us to lose sight of what a rare gem we are to begin with. We are an industry made up entirely of people who feel a calling to serve. It’s important to remember to look around and pat ourselves on the back once in a while. To acknowledge each other’s commitment to creating a kinder, more inclusive community. We should also remember to thank our fundraisers, elected officials, and administrators who help us tirelessly spread the word that despite the odds, we’re here.