Libraries are not about books.
They are about sharing. Sharing stories, knowledge, passions, creativity, news, information, and countless resources. Books are full of this. Librarians are, too! Whether a story is in print, online, or in person, it is a shared experience. Sometimes libraries are about sharing an air-conditioned space on a hot day, or some warmth on a cold one. Some have coffee shop settings, cozy spots to share the quiet company of others while you read, study, write, or daydream.
Many libraries have their own special things to share. At a library near a fishing site in Chicago, you can check out fishing poles and tackle boxes. A library in a massive apartment complex in Arizona has found a lending set of tools to be a very popular item. In New Jersey there is a library that has a seasonal room where people can check out donated prom dresses. While small kids may love a library for its picture books, teens may check out electronic games, and other people may seek movies.
Libraries are about communities. They are gathering places. You can find book discussion groups or meeting places for local clubs. They offer maps and lists of helpful community resources. Whether at a school or public library, you can find many levels of support and entertainment when you venture in the door—or to the website.
Sometimes that community support is very special. One library I visited a couple years ago had a sharing room for random things that people might need. In an urban area full of high-rises and joblessness, this room was filled with things like socks, mittens, tote bags, and personal products. It had a shelf of granola bars and juice boxes. The librarian said it had started as the lost and found, but now visitors bring things to leave there for others. It seemed to be well used, as people came in off the street and left with a cap or a bite to eat. Sometimes local shelters sent people over to do outreach.
Libraries are about learning. You can learn from the books and publications. But you can use the computers, too. In many libraries, you can take classes. There are offerings for people wanting to learn computer programs or how to crochet. There is access to free tutoring, even SAT and ACT prep programs.
And this can reach beyond the library building. In many communities you can “check out” passes to other local resources, from museums to art galleries. This waives the admission fee so people can learn about history, art, science, and more in the wonderful settings that these sites share.
Mostly, libraries are about people. The people who use libraries, the helpful people who work there, and the people who wrote the books, created the games and videos, published the magazines, and shared their stories and knowledge with others. Meeting needs, helping people learn, giving access to a world of information that people need or are just curious about. They are open to everyone and offer support in many ways. You can find audiobooks, accessible spaces, listening rooms, and much more. If a visitor has a need that has not been anticipated, librarians will work to fill it. In areas filled with English language learners, many libraries are using volunteers for interpreting. They are also trying to supply books and publications from many cultures and in many languages.
People come to libraries for many reasons—to learn, to socialize, to find a new hobby, or to perfect a skill. Often they are amazed at the range of information they find there and the help available. Sometimes people come just to browse or watch other people. And, yes, sometimes it is simply to find a good book.
What need does your library fill within your school or other community? What is the most surprising item or service you have seen in a library?
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