The Importance of Libraries to a Community

by Helen Patterson

By now many people are familiar with Panos Mourdoukoutas and his (since deleted) article, “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” In this article, Mourdoukoutas seems to misunderstand or misrepresent what libraries do. Modern libraries are not dusty book depositories sucking up taxpayers’ dollars and offering nothing in exchange. They provide community services and public spaces, connecting people to vital resources. As someone who works at the Tulsa City-County Library (TCCL), I see the ways the library constantly supports my community. Readers and writers have an obligation to support libraries for the good of their communities and themselves.

Although we live in a world that is increasingly connected and dependent on technology, many people do not have access to the internet—this could be due to age, income, or other life circumstances. Without internet, it can be difficult to access jobs, do taxes, or finish homework assignments. In most public libraries, including TCCL, wireless internet and free public computers are available.

In addition to internet access, TCCL has eBooks and digital audiobooks available to download. A library card allows you to learn languages with Mango Languages, take classes with lynda.com, and study for your GED with Learning Express. We have dozens of academic publications and databases, magazines, and information about starting a business, running a non-profit, or applying for a grant.

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Onsite, libraries offer classes, STEM workshops for kids, and free seminars that range from retirement to ancestry research. Libraries have reading programs and storytime for parents and children of all ages. They have book clubs and rooms available for community groups and non-profit meetings.

I love all these services, but my great love of libraries stems from their support of books and reading. Libraries host visiting authors and group discussions. Through libraries, communities can pool resources so that everyone can access more books, more perspectives, and more ideas than an individual could amass in a private library. Almost every author has a story of when they first encountered a library and fell in love with books. Without a space that displays and celebrates words and learning, how many fewer authors would we have? How many fewer people would consider writing a possibility?

I was heartened by the strong negative reaction to Mourdoukoutas’s article, because the feedback shows that communities have not given up on their libraries. The future is increasingly complicated and uncertain, and it is becoming easier to leave each other behind. As writers and readers, we have the opportunity to learn and to preserve knowledge. However, our primary responsibility isn’t to abstract ideas—but to people. We need to use the empathy, some of it even gleaned from books, to help others.

Libraries help us think about what kind of people we want to be and what kind of stories we want to tell—and what kind of stories we want told about ourselves.

Originally hailing from Colorado, Helen Patterson is a graduate of The University of Tulsa. She works at the Tulsa City-County Library, writes literary horror, and loves a wonderful Okie boy.

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