Wednesday, July 28, 2021

What We Can Afford


Probably the weirdest thing about the controversy of the last few days is the number of people who were unaware that a new library was a part of the Downtown Plan. And, rather than do the necessary learning to bring themselves up to speed on the issue, they have decided it’s some kind of sneaky plot that’s being sprung on them in the most insidious of ways. To turn the brilliant Maya Angelou quote upside down, it is very important to them to not know better, so they aren’t obliged to do better. 

It reminds me very much of the old Peanuts comic strip where Lucy is educating Linus on butterflies.

Artist Charles Schulz, United Features Syndicate/ Peanuts Worldwide LLC

Schulz gives us a brilliant example of someone who feels compelled to make new and contradictory evidence fit their old hypothesis. We have a lot of that going on right now in Columbia/HoCo.

I have avoided wading into these arguments online for the most part, but one statement was so egregiously ignorant that I want to take the time to address it here.

No one NEEDS all the things they put at, say, the Elkridge library. A library NEEDS to have books you can take home and return. The rest is debatable.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

Libraries stopped being “just books” a long time ago. Farther back in the last century than you might imagine. Unbeknownst to the commenter, libraries have adapted and responded to community needs in a variety of ways. Even when I was in school, back in the dark ages, libraries had machines for reading microfilm, and some of the first photocopy machines I had ever laid eyes on. Yes, there was a time when that was cutting edge.

Librarians have proven over time to be a curious and far-thinking bunch who are capable of meeting patrons’s needs in the present while keeping their gaze firmly on the future for materials and experiences that will broaden and deepen their service to the community. If you go to the website for our own Howard County Library, you will see that, under their name, are these words:

Public Education for All

In their “About Us” section they elaborate:

An allied agency similar to the school system and community college, HCLS delivers high-quality public education for everyone. HCLS’ curriculum comprises three pillars: Self-Directed Education, Research Assistance & Instruction, and Instructive & Enlightening Experiences.

*Self-Directed Education 
*Research Assistance and Instruction
*Instructive & Enlightening Experiences 

Libraries are about opening doors for people so they can open even more doors for themselves. They are facilitators of self-actualization. As such they provide services, materials, and experiences to allow members of the community to lead better lives. The beginning of that mission may have been with the free circulation of books. Today it encompasses books, magazines, music, movies, computers, educational programs and circulating collections of toys, tools, and other items which not everyone can afford, but everyone can be better for learning about and using.

Think of all the ways our library system reached out to us during the pandemic in addition to making physical books available for take-out. The Howard County Library’s outreach to our community was a prime example of how they “walked the walk” and not just “talked the talk.” 

At the Elkridge Branch and DIY Center  you will find: 

…six study rooms, three meeting rooms, a vending cafe, a business center, more computers, and an expanded collection. In addition, the DIY collection (e.g., tools for household repair, gardening, bike maintenance) is available to borrow at the DIY Education Center , which features classes for all ages.

And that’s just Elkridge. Did you know there’s a Music Technology Lab at the Savage Branch? 

A library which contained only books which you can take home and return would be a memorial to a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Our libraries provide so much more than that because that’s what people in the here and now actually need. Libraries and librarians have the vision and commitment to put the ability to “do things for oneself” into the hands of people who are seeking to learn, try, and grow.

You think we can’t afford to do that?

We can’t afford not to do that. 

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