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Americans Love Libraries

by on January 22, 2016

Did you know that Americans really do love their libraries? Research shows the reason for this lovefest fits into three broad categories: information access, public space, and our transformative potential, according to research by Wayne Wiegand in his book, “Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library.[1]

So, why are we so worried about the future of our libraries? People love us, right? Yes, they do, but that love is not always measured by their willingness to allocate funding to our budgets. Which begs the question, “How do we transform this unquestionable love for public libraries into increased funding?” Enter the librarian.

As I wrote in October, if the library is “the place,” then the librarian (and by librarian, I mean everyone who works in the library) may very well be what saves the public library. Listening to Patrick Sweeney’s keynote session at the Arizona Library Association conference, I was reminded of OCLC’s findings in a report that states that “The factors that determine residents’ willingness to increase their taxes to support their local library are their perceptions and attitudes about the library and the librarian.[2]  Sweeney, who works for EveryLibrary, (a Super PAC), informed us that most voters will not vote against a library referendum if they have a relationship with the librarian.[3]

Sure, I am making several assumptions, and perhaps drawing lines between dots that might not otherwise be connected, but play along with me, will you? Librarians humanize the library. They put a face on the institution as they connect people to books, programs and resources. Librarians are true community connectors and therein lay the potential that Wiegand brings to light—our transformative potential, that is what causes change or causes a shift in viewpoint usually for the better. When a patron experiences this transformational change, it can be exactly the type of emotional catalyst needed to motivate them up the ladder of engagement—from patron to volunteer to advocate to voter—and send them straight to the polls to vote for the library referendum (if and when that time comes).

What if librarians were fully engaged in their communities (yes, I know many are) and well-networked with their municipal counterparts, stakeholders, elected officials, trustees, and patrons (yes, even patrons). Wouldn’t forging such positive professional relationships help boost the perception and attitudes about the library and the librarian?

So, let’s drop our wasted energies on defending ourselves and our existence. People love us. Yes, libraries do matter in the age of Google. They always have and they always will. Libraries will outlive the printed books so long as we continue to evolve, grow, and innovate (just as we always have). In the words of Roy Bennett, “Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, focus your energy on what you can create.”[4] Let’s continue to create the future of public libraries with innovative services and a well-connected community of librarians.


[1] Wiegand, Wayne A. Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

[2] De Rosa, Cathy, and Jenny Johnson. “From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America.” Report to the OCLC Membership (Dublin: OCLC, 2008). Web. https://www.oclc.org/content/dam/oclc/reports/funding/fullreport.pdf.

[3] Sweeney, Patrick. “Opening Session: Party Hard.” Key Note, Arizona Library Association Conference, Flagstaff, AZ. November, 19, 2015. Libraray Association Conference, Flagstaff, AZ. November, 19, 2015.

[4] Http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7349842-instead-of-worrying-about-what-you-cannot-control-focus-your. Accessed January 22, 2016.

Resources-Further Reading

Berry, John N., III. “By the People: The Library future resides in the users’ perception.” Library Journal. (15 October 2015). Web. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/10/opinion/john-berry/by-the-people-the-library-future-resides-in-users-perception-blatant-berry/#_.

Wiegand, Wayne A. “Why Americans love their Public Libraries.” The Northwestern. (27 October 2015). Web. http://www.thenorthwestern.com/story/opinion/2015/10/24/americans-love-public-libraries/74563880/.

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