Welcome to the twenties! Let’s get this decade started right by showing our libraries some love.
- Spread the good word about libraries. Most people I know cannot imagine a world without libraries. Yet the battle to keep public libraries open in Douglas County, Oregon and the closing of hundreds of Great Britain’s libraries over the past decade are reminders that these institutions are not valued equally by everyone. A heavy reliance on local funding, grants, and volunteer staff make public libraries especially vulnerable to cuts in services. Keep libraries at the forefront of people’s minds by “talking them up” in person and online. You can post cool quotes about them in your email signatures, tell your friends about thought-provoking library events you’ve attended, wear a shirt expressing your library love – it all counts.
- Write to your representatives. County commissioners, city council members, state legislators, and congresspeople need to know that you value the services that libraries provide: training classes, story hours, free computer time, books, audiovisual materials, makerspaces, and so much more. Handwritten letters and phone messages about what the library means to you and your community could persuade representatives to make library funding a priority at budget time. The American Library Association’s advocacy webpage (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/getting-started) is a super resource for people who want to get involved in legislative advocacy at the local, state, or federal levels.
- Thank a page. Pages are the staff who keep materials organized and on the shelves. They may also check materials out, unload book drop bins, vacuum, and answer patrons’ questions. A page’s work is physically challenging, indispensable, and nearly always underpaid. The next time you see a page pushing a book cart, take a moment to tell them how much their work matters. They deserve the appreciation!
- Become a tutor. A number of libraries offer tutoring programs for adults and children who want to advance their reading and study skills. Tutoring is a life-changing experience for many, and the skills students learn can be transmitted to future generations. Tutors tend to volunteer on a regular schedule, but the hours required vary by library. No tutoring program where you live? Consider approaching the library staff about starting one.
- Join a Friends of the Library group. These groups support libraries by hosting book sales, advocating publicly for libraries, and, at times, sponsoring cultural events. Proceeds from Friends activities can go toward services and programs that government funding does not cover. People with sales and fundraising skills may be especially well suited to Friends work.Image by PaulinaH from Pixabay
- The next time you hear someone say that the Internet has made libraries irrelevant, set them straight. People have been predicting the demise of libraries for decades, but libraries are far from “dead.” Those who believe they are seem unaware of the countless community members who rely on libraries for free computer and Internet access, books (printed or electronic), or simply a quiet space to study and reflect. Libraries are a refuge and a safe space for many, an escape from the cacophony of the world or an unwelcoming social environment. They are also places where people can get help with identifying what is reliable and what is not in the infinite hodgepodge of data that is the Internet. According to a 2016 Pew Research survey, nearly 80% of adults see the library as a place to seek assistance with finding “trustworthy information.” Vive la bibliothèque!
- Dip into library history. Did you know that libraries have been around in some form or another for about 5,000 years? Or that librarians provided intelligence during World War II? Have you heard of the Connecticut Four? How about E.J. Josey? The library has a rich history, full of rabblerousers and quiet warriors who fought hard for democracy, privacy rights, and cultural inclusiveness. Reading about their work was eye-opening for me and made me a more informed advocate. A good starting point for public library history is Wayne Wiegand’s Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library. (Read my short account of Wiegand’s book here.)
- Encourage people who do not have library cards to get them. Many adults never go to the library, either because they buy most of their books and music, or because they believe the library has nothing to offer them. Recent relocators may have thought about getting a card but might not have gotten around to it. Cards get lost, stolen, or destroyed for all kinds of reasons. Check your peeps’ library card status the next time you see them. And don’t forget to get a card yourself, if you don’t have one already.
Chicago rapper Noname has made January 11 her book club’s Library Card Registration Day.
- Tell them what you want. Libraries have remained relevant throughout the years by being responsive to the needs of their patrons. The library belongs to the community. If it is not offering the services, programs, or materials you want, let the staff know. You can approach them directly, respond to their surveys, submit ideas via the library website, or drop a note in the library’s on-site suggestion box. Most library staff welcome and value the feedback of the people they serve. Don’t be shy about giving it!
- Lead a program. Take the “tell them what you want” idea a step further by offering to host an event, teach a class, or lead a workshop.
- Do some outreach. Illness, homelessness, financial crises, lack of transportation – so many life situations can stand in the way of a person’s library access. Outreach volunteers deliver library materials to people who might otherwise be cut off from their own community’s resources. Find out what outreach opportunities exist by talking to your local library staff or consulting your library’s volunteer page. (For a firsthand perspective, read my 2018 post about being an outreach volunteer.)
- Schedule a monthly library day. Or a half a day. OK, two hours. Whatever you can manage – just do it regularly! When people make the library a constant in their lives, they reinforce the library’s role as a community-building space. If you can, get your family and friends to join you.
- Participate in a community book discussion. These days it can be difficult to find an affirming and inclusive space to discuss controversial social issues. The “One Book, One Community” model is one that some libraries use to encourage dialogue and build community cohesion. Find out whether your local library is doing the community book thing. If they aren’t, consider suggesting it.
- Take a stand. Any time you stand up for democracy, public education, human rights, or equitable access to basic resources, you are implicitly supporting the values that make libraries possible.
- Celebrate the months, weeks, and days honoring libraries, librarians, and literature. The American Library Association maintains a list of them on their website (http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks) Libraries get really into this stuff, often hosting readings, movies, lectures, and performances related to the themes. My personal favorites are Banned Book Week and (surprise!) National Poetry Month. Grab your library’s events calendar to see what activities and festivities they have planned.
- Donate books and money. Book donations support library book sales that generate revenue for programs not covered by other funding sources. But plain old money is just as welcome! If your library does a fundraising campaign by mail, just follow the instructions provided in the mailer. If not, call the library director and ask how best to give.
- Take a library tour. One of my favorite vacation activities is library exploration. A local library’s building design, event advertisements, and book collections can tell you a lot about the culture of a town, a city, or a country. If vacation library visits are not your thing, you can explore close to home. Go to the parts of your community library that you normally ignore. Browse through unfamiliar shelves. Look at the pictures on the wall. Ask the staff what they know about the building’s history. You might be amazed at what you learn. You can even take a guided tour, if the library offers them.
- Join a library-based book club or cultural group. No matter what your interest or preferred genre, there is probably a library book club, artists’ circle, or crafts group that caters to it. These clubs and groups provide great spaces for community building, professional networking, and socializing, and they liven up the library atmosphere. Again, if what you want does not exist yet, talk to your local library staff about starting it.(Photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)
- Support Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (Libraries Without Borders). This organization brings library services and internet access to underserved populations in countries throughout the world, including people housed in refugee camps. Among their outreach initiatives are the Ideas Box, a mobile pop-up library which can be set up nearly anywhere, and Les Voyageurs du Numérique (The Digital Travelers), a program through which volunteers teach kids digital literacy skills.
- Start your own. If you have the resources and you see a need, consider setting up a library in your own community. It does not have to be huge to make an impact. New Zealand’s tiny libraries are important historic institutions. OlaRonke Akinmowo’s Brooklyn-born Free Black Women’s Library, which works off book exchanges among community members, inspired similar pop-up libraries in Chicago and Los Angeles. Some people have gotten little libraries going in their own yards. The American Library Association offers guidelines for starting different types of libraries, big and small. Rather than going it alone, enlist the help of friends, family members, or library studies students seeking internships.(Photo by Lisette Brodey from Pixabay)
You don’t have to do all of these things. Just do something. We all say we value libraries. Let’s love them like we mean it.