The library is more important than you. The library is more important than its librarians. The library is more important than the materials on its shelves, screens, and speakers. The library is more important than the buildings that house those materials. The library is more important than its director. The library is more important than the newspaper, the TV and radio stations, and all of their reporters. The library is more important than the mayor, city council, congresspersons, the governor, and every candidate for those offices. The library is more important than the state budget and the rest of its funding sources. The library is more important than Andrew Carnegie.
The library is more important, because its potential for change and growth extends beyond you, to your family, your neighbors, and your community. The library is not just a symbol or a luxury. It is a cornerstone for an informed society to build its future. Anyone can use the library’s resources to become the next librarian, director, mayor, reporter, congressperson, governor, anything. The library is open to anyone to educate herself and her children without agenda or bias, to entertain himself with the media of his choice, to find employment, to research and read and listen and write and watch.
In my cover letter to apply for this job, I wrote, “Libraries, as a free source of unrestricted public education, are a vital part of our communities.” Now that I work here, I know that to be true. It says right above the door: Free to the People. The library is not more important than the people. Who are the People? That’s you.
A librarian I work with said, “Good questions are more important than answers.” A good question has the ability to stir in us a force as powerful as hunger. So ask, Pittsburgh. Make demands. Tell the director. Tell the papers. Tell the mayor. Tell the city, county and state representatives how you feel about branches closing in your neighborhood and your neighbors’ neighborhoods, what you think about library funding, how you feel about losing library workers to assist you, access to information, and hours of operation in which to access it.
And then ask yourself. Beyond just fighting to maintain the status quo, what do you want from the library? What does the best library you can imagine look like?
Are buildings open 8 am to 10 pm? Do shelves stock the newest, most popular and obscure titles? Do computers whirr and flash with the most up-to-date information, just waiting for you to hit enter?
Do Children’s Departments abound with storytimes and creative play? Do Teen spaces overflow with engaged, excited young people? Do event calendars list informative, cultural and educational, thought-provoking programs for everyone?
Do reference departments include the most useful resources to help you accomplish your goals? Do desks staff energetic employees, motivated and enabled to connect you with what you seek? Do employees have the means to pursue the latest technologies and methods to assist your search? Do you come here to find employment, relax, and study? Is this the place you visit to feel safe, informed, and inspired?
Do patrons feel ownership of this organization? Are they vocal? Do they contribute their ideas and resources to supporting it? Do they encourage their government to endorse the institution they value so much?
Is your ideal library a humming center in a vibrant community of empowered, engaged, autonomous citizens? What has to happen for all of this to come true? What is your part?
The library is more important than this crisis. The library is as important as you make it. All of this is possible. All of this is yours for the asking.