Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Cheer for Libraries

The public library was a saving godsend to me when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time there, reading and learning. The library was also someplace to go when there seemed to be no place else. It was a safe and comfortable world in the then and there, even as it opened my imagination to what was way beyond the then and there. 

I started out frequenting our local Francis Martin Branch, a half-mile walk north on University Avenue to West 181st Street. When I outgrew that, I would walk to the bigger Bainbridge Avenue branch. Later, when I lived downtown, I frequented the charmingly castle-like Jefferson Market Branch in Greenwich Village (a former courthouse), The Donnell Library on West 53rd Street, just off 5th Avenue, and finally the Mid-Manhattan Library on 5th Avenue at East 40th Street - at that time the circulating branch of the main library across 5th Avenue on 42nd Street, the iconic NY building (photo) with its famous lions, named Patience and Fortitude. 

So it was with interest - and a some joy - that I read the Atlantic article, "When Libraries are 'Second Responders'," based on James and Deborah Fallows travels across the country to see how local communities cope with our seemingly insurmountable national problems. Along their way, they reported on the emerging role of public libraries as what they call "second responders":

The article recites a series of examples of libraries serving as all-purpose community centers providing vital social services for often unserved or ill-served populations. "Libraries step in to fill gaps and offer help when normal channels are inaccessible." For those lacking other resources, these can include medical information, financial guidance, and even funeral planning. The article references a Pew Research Center poll, according to which "78% of people say libraries  help them to find information they can trust. " And, as always, "libraries make themselves appealing to schoolchildren of any age as a safe, warm place to do homework or just hang out when they can't or won't go home." It seems libraries are increasingly filling the social space once inhabited by churches - and a now retreating government.

So, a cheer - in fact, three cheers - for libraries!

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