April 1, 2009
Every Library Is A Lighthouse
Bad times do strange things to free, public places, especially those with internet access:
Urban ills like homelessness have affected libraries in many cities for years, but librarians here and elsewhere say they are seeing new challenges. They find people asleep more often at cubicles. Patrons who cannot read or write ask for help filling out job applications. Some people sit at computers trying to use the Internet, even though they have no idea what the Internet is.
“A lot of people who would not normally be here are coming in to use the computers,” said Cynthia Jones, a regional branch manager in St. Louis.
“Adults complain a lot about kids just playing games and you know, ‘I need to do a résumé, or ‘I need to write, I need some help,’ ” Ms. Jones said. “There’s a bit of frustration.”
Ms. Jones instructed her staff to tread carefully. “You don’t want to upset people,” she said. “You don’t know what might set somebody off.”
Philadelphia recently had a long and torturous go-round over proposed library closings. The idea I floated among my small and relatively uninfluential circle was to keep the libraries open and move other public/social services into space at the libraries and close THOSE buildings.
I still think this is a good idea, especially once you grant the notion that libraries are a place to access public information of all kinds, not just those found in books. If libraries are where people are coming for help, then that’s where we should go to reach them. Every library is a lighthouse, a city’s or town’s beacon to guide the way in the night.