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Thankful for Public Libraries

by on November 21, 2012

With the timing of this post so very close to Thanksgiving, I struggled with trying to come up with some cute Thanksgiving theme: a librarian’s Thanksgiving menu? A pilgrim’s library?  Recipes with literary flare? Finding all of these ideas wanting I pursued something more practical — how can the public library help on Thanksgiving?  Books about Thanksgiving?

Online I found endless turkey facts and some charming resources made by university libraries that outlined everything from turkey history to films. I found lists of why we should be thankful for librarians and great children’s program ideas. However, nothing resonated for this blog post and I kept asking myself: why am I thankful for libraries?

Of course the obvious and trite came to mind immediately and these things are important, but am I truly thankful about saving people money or promoting literacy? These are good things, surely, but do they warrant Thanksgiving level thankfulness?  I’m not sure. This is my job. I try to do it well and meet the purpose of the public library’s stated mission. Is this enough?  So I began to consider why I have pursued public libraries to begin with. I’ve worked in newspaper libraries, school libraries, I’ve held an academic career; for me pursuing a public library was a deliberate choice.

As I sat musing on this, some of our ‘regulars’ appeared at the desk:  Mr. D, a charming, albeit deaf senior who daily tells us the worst puns we’ve ever heard. Mr. O. who always asks for extra time on his audio book, but never actually winds up needing the extra time. In this five minutes there were also people I’ve never seen before, including a patron grateful for our faxing service and a harried mother whose stack of picture books required two bags. She expressed gratitude for her borrowing privileges, noting how expensive it would be to provide her children with so many new books, so often.

While considering these events, I remembered a story told by an author at my first library conference.  The author told of being a young immigrant in New York where the public library was her safe have: a place where she felt at home, safe, and surrounded by friends. It changed her life. It was while listening to that story that I decided I wanted to be in a public library.

Beyond the obvious (at least to librarians) — public libraries save people money, we support literacy, education, freedoms, and we offer information, socialization, and training.  The public library helps people who have nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to for help. It  I is for having and being part of such a place, that I am most thankful.