Last week, I spent some time exploring the situation our local libraries are in and how we got here. This week, I’d like to continue the discussion by looking at some of the benefits a strong library system brings to our community — in other words, what we risk losing if the millage ultimately fails and the library loses the 38% of its budget those tax dollars represent.
I’ll put a nice long list of amenities the Lafayette Public Library provides towards the end of the post, but I’d like to start with something more personal.
We’ve been homeschooling for roughly eight years now, and I can say with conviction that our homeschool could not function as it does — almost could not exist — without the public library.
Last week when I took stock, we had over $1,000 worth of library materials (books and audiobooks) in our home. A good portion of those are “for fun” reading (which some of us call “building fluency”) but a good portion are also dedicated to learning new information. I recently returned a stack of books on Egypt. This year our assigned (library sourced) reading has also included a children’s version of Gilgamesh, Old Yeller, The Cricket in Times Square, books on ancient Mesopotamia and how energy works…the list goes on, and it’s barely November.
The point is, my husband is a school teacher, with a school teacher’s salary. I don’t really get paid to write. There is no way we could give our children the education they currently enjoy without our libraries, and we are grateful. We could be paying hundreds of dollars for the use of these “curriculum materials,” and it would still be a great deal. For the upcoming millage, we pay roughly $11. I couldn’t purchase any one of the books about Egypt for that price.
(There is a greater good here, as well — libraries are key to a strong democracy. Because they give everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, access to information, they lay the groundwork for an educated and involved public. This isn’t my idea — it was Ben Franklin’s. But to get back to our story…)
When we first moved to Acadiana, we lived in the wild Cajun prairie between Grand Coteau and Arnaudville. We soon learned that, despite our St. Landry Parish address, we could get a Lafayette Public Library card. The Sunset Community Library (St. Landry) was closer, but North Regional Library in Carencro was on the way to most of the places we went…and it had story time. Mrs. Anna, the children’s librarian, was pretty much my kids’ first friend in Acadiana. Every week I got four small children out of the trailer and into the magic of books, songs, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and exploring the library. We didn’t have internet at home, so it was also my only computer time, and my only access to a printer. It’s hard to express what the library meant to us that year, but one word might sum it up: connection.
Again, once the library re-opened for drive-thru services after quarantine, it was one of the few options for entertainment at that time. I’d order books online (we did have internet by then, thankfully) and pick them up at the window, along with take-home crafts for the kids. We also, appropriately, borrowed the board game “Pandemic.” The librarians provided online story times and events to help parents cope and our community stay connected.
Which brings me to the promised long list of library services we risk losing if we don’t care for our libraries. There are the obvious things that can be checked out: books, music, movies, video games, board games, air quality monitors, musical instruments. Plus all the digital resources — magazines, books, newspapers, genealogy information, and research databases. And if our library doesn’t have a book, they will go out of their way to get it. Need an obscure book on life in Roman-occupied Israel? That’s what interlibrary loan is for.
There are the spaces open to all: meeting and study rooms available for reservation, a quiet place in a world that is noisy, a warm place in winter and a cool place in summer, a place where one is allowed to loiter in a world where people are often only welcome if they plan to spend money. Our churches are usually locked these days, but the library still provides a seat and a little rest for those with no where else to go.
There are the services: tax and legal and resume assistance programs, nutrition and exercise programs (some day I will make it to the Zumba class), literacy programs for children and adults, craft time and story time and speakers on all sorts of topics. My oldest two girls and I heard Ernest Gaines speak at our library a couple of years ago. When Lucy read A Lesson Before Dying in English this fall, she already had a connection to the author. That is priceless.
There is the equipment: access to computers, internet, and printers. In the Maker Spaces patrons can use sewing machines, sergers, 3-D printers, dye-cut machines, typewriters, and more.
And there is the community a library creates. Moms meet at story time and then schedule their own play dates. People meet at craft events and become friends; people meet at book clubs and learn from each other.
If all this isn’t enough, libraries also mean good jobs and higher property values. Even if you never set foot in the library, you still benefit.
Some people in our community argue that these resources aren’t worth our tax dollars. I disagree. I think we should be hesitant to undervalue community, literacy, and an educated populace. As Catholics, we believe we have an obligation to develop the whole person towards holiness; our public libraries (rightly used, of course, but that is another very long post!) make the space and the resources available for people to do just that. If our goal is human flourishing, libraries are a step in the right direction.
All that said, the discussion circles around and ends where it began for me. For our family, the library, more than anything else, means books. Books mean stories. Stories are where we meet people like us, people unlike us, and ourselves. I believe in stories because I believe in the Word, and I believe one place in which we can encounter Him is in stories. So join me at the polls this coming Saturday, November 13, please, and support our community’s access to these stories.