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OPINION: We Need Libraries More Than Ever

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By Tom McKone

Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Photo courtesy of Tom Mckone.

The flow of patrons checking books out at the adult circulation desk comes in waves. While the desk is sometimes deserted, more often there’s a line. One day I tried to weave my way through while there was quite a crowd waiting. A man with a handful of books and DVDs stopped me, and with a big smile on his face, said, “This is a sign of an excellent, vibrant library.” His initial comment—coming from someone waiting in line—was unexpected, but such thank-yous are frequent. We have a great library; people know it, and people appreciate it.

Like many devoted readers, I became a fan of libraries as a child, and in every stage of my life, I have grown to appreciate them in new ways. Working at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library for the past five years has given me an even deeper appreciation of these wonderful institutions. 

We attract all kinds of people with a wide range of backgrounds, interests, passions, needs, and world views. They come to borrow good, old-fashioned books that you can hold in your hands and stuff in your backpack—still the most popular service we offer—but also to borrow DVDs, use our public computers, do research and email, apply for a job, pick up a family pass to a museum, or attend a preschool story time or an evening presentation by a UVM professor. They come to practice Spanish at lunch, meet with their poetry writing group, or chat with friends. They come in to stay warm and dry, or they sit on the lawn to enjoy the sun. 

They are all ages, complexions, and sizes.  Some are very smart, some are not.  Some have a lot of money, some don’t. Some treat every book with TLC, while others—OMG—don’t. They all come together at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library—in the stacks, the reading room, various cozy reading nooks; at the morning story times and evening adult programs; for An Evening at the Library event or PoemCity, our month-long celebration of poetry.  They come for the monthly art exhibits or dozens of magazines we subscribe to. They come to work hard without interruptions or to veg out in an old leather chair.

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Libraries are among the most democratic places in America—free, open, and welcoming to everyone.  They are nonjudgmental. Librarians don’t care who you voted for or where you stand on any of the hot issues that divide us; they’re here just to help you find a book, do a web search, or whatever else you need. In the library, there are no walls. 

Those who say we need libraries less because of the internet and technology just don’t understand libraries and apparently haven’t visited one lately. Libraries are alive and bring people together every day, all day long, and in hundreds of small and large ways work to break down barriers and to help people to appreciate each other. 

We don’t need libraries less because of technology: We need them more. In a world that is increasingly impersonal, we crave the personal, and that’s what libraries are all about. Libraries are among our 21st century primary needs, along with schools, roads, and police and fire protection. Libraries warm our bodies and our souls. If there is a heaven, we won’t need a fire department or a police department, but we will surely want libraries.

Tom McKone has been the executive director of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library since 2014. He is retiring in June.