By Jan Bryant
Muskogee Public Library
The title of an article in Forbes magazine on Jan. 16, 2013, “Why Public Libraries Matter…” caught my attention. I am thoroughly convinced that libraries matter and was gratified to find that someone writing in Forbes magazine felt the same way.
The author David Vinjamuri began his article with a quote from Thomas Jefferson “I have long thought that nothing would do more extensive good… than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county…” letter to John Wyche, 1809.
The idea of a collection of materials and provision of a variety of services for the public has long been the cornerstone of public libraries and while some may think libraries are antiquated and no longer relevant I want to share why this is an erroneous assumption.
To quote Mr. Vinjamuri “…public libraries in America…are dynamic, versatile community centers.” They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times — more than eight times for each citizen.
More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. They used this access, among other purposes to “find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments.”
Libraries have long been in the business of providing information and recreational reading but in today’s society they are becoming much more. They provide services often unavailable anywhere else in a community and they provide their services free.
What are some of the services provide by Muskogee Public Library?
The library has computers, both at the library and to check out. It provides classes and one-on-one training for various technologies. It has programs for babies to 99. There are book clubs; teen programs; craft programs, for kids and adults; a Lego Club; and many special programs throughout the year.
It has one of the longest running Great Decisions programs in the United States, with presenters who are experts on their topics. It has games and toys for little ones to play with when they visit and a Wii with video games for patrons to use in-house. There are computer camps and a photography camp for students in the summer.
Businesses, clubs, and organizations have access to free meeting room space. AARP provides free tax preparation at the library each tax season. There is an extensive local history and genealogy research collection. And, most importantly, the library has staff that are available to provide personal help.
With all the services the library provides it has not abandoned its cornerstone of encouraging reading. Libraries are still foundational in encouraging a love of reading, which is vital to educational excellence.
To sum up, I again quote Mr. Vinjamuri “Like the humble starfish that preserves entire marine ecosystems by eating mussels, the American public library is the keystone species in the ecosystem of reading.”
Yes, libraries really do matter, in more ways than one!
Jan Bryant is the head librarian at the Muskogee Public Library.