In Praise of Our Libraries

Opinion / Sep. 28, 2017 9:13am EDT

As a child on a back road near the Royalton-Bethel line, I didn’t get out much to visit the library. I was lucky enough, however, to have parents who understood the importance of books and I can’t recall a time when I was without reading material.

I was fascinated by Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day,” and would imagine all the ways I could occupy my adult life with important work. (We all have dreams.)

When my brother and I began school in South Royalton, the classroom trip to the library was a highlight of our week.

Miss Frizzle’s fantastic voyages aboard the Magic Schoolbus gave new life to science, and the Berenstain Bears (maybe not the greatest storytelling ever) made us dream of tree houses in the woods. We both admired the beautifully drawn adventures of Sir Cedric and, soon, I was completely taken with Encyclopedia Brown, Tom Swift, and the Hardy Boys.

About then, we discovered the library’s non-fiction section.

I found books about criminal investigation, finding the Titanic, tracking wildlife, and the history of submarines. I’d love now to see what my library card (number C2, I think) looked like by the end of school—to revisit the books checked out from the school’s collection. I remember a book about World War I that included a brilliant cutaway drawing of the underground fortresses along the Maginot Line. Between the two of us, my brother and I probably checked out that book 20 times.

I lived too far away to easily get to the public library, but the availability of information within the stacks at school was formative.

These days, information is easier than ever to acquire. As I type this now, just behind the window holding this text document, my web browser is a portal to a seemingly boundless trove of facts and fictions. Just like a lot of institutions around us, libraries have fallen victim to the seductive ease of the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Internet as much (or maybe more) than the next guy, but one thing that it has done is make the acquisition of information so effortless that we’re no longer willing to put in any work to ensure the quality of that information.

Libraries across the country have been doing a commendable job finding their way, even though the long history of stewarding a panoply of paper books doesn’t always feel relevant to folks in a digital world. Luckily, it’s our libraries that have often been at the cutting edge of ensuring the high-tech world is accessible to anyone that wants access.

Public libraries in the region still have plenty of books on the shelves, but they are also providing a slew of services that aren’t always recognized. There are ongoing children’s literacy programs, arts and crafts times, engaging presentations and discussions for adults, access to computers, and tax preparation help.

Libraries are one of our great bastions of civil liberties and they deserve our continued support.

In an era where so many of our social problems could be addressed through access to education, libraries provide a resource that just isn’t available elsewhere—not just the information, but the wisdom needed to interpret information.

In Royalton, the town has begun raising money toward needed accessibility renovations, as well as an ambitious expansion.

That fundraising effort is slated to continue in the form of private donations, but the first step will come in a bond vote by citizens of Royalton on Oct. 24, the same day that the town will decide on the future of the school system.

Undoubtedly the school vote will be foremost on folks’ minds—and rightly so. But don’t let the importance of the library bond escape attention. If there is a piece of town infrastructure that is as invaluable at enriching the mind as the local library, I don’t know what it is.

We could all do well (myself included) to spend more time at our local libraries.

T. Calabro

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