Exhausted by Political Turmoil? Turn to Unifying Power of Our Libraries!

Exhausted by Political Turmoil? Turn to Unifying Power of Our Libraries!

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or somewhere in between, we can all agree that political discussion in the United States is not where we want it. Discord appears to reign supreme, regardless of the topic, with pundits, fake news, and loud-mouthed politicians spoiling it for everyone. There is, however, a topic that I believe we can all agree on: The greatness of our nation’s public libraries!

sign the pledge to vote for libraries

I’m not just blowing smoke here, people of all political stripes are supporting libraries by voting with their feet — library visits, check-outs, and program attendance are all up from where they were 20 years ago! Surprised? Don’t be. The library as an institution has come of age along with the United States. Back when our first tax-supported public libraries were established about 170 years ago, the Civil War had yet to be fought, women couldn’t vote, and the west was still wild. But even back then librarians were providing an education for a scrappy nation striving to get ahead in the world.

Going back further, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both understood the importance of libraries. The former offered to sell his personal library to the young nation at “any price set by Congress” to replace the volumes burned by the British during the War of 1812. The latter founded the nation’s first public library that operated on a subscription-basis when he convinced his associates to help fund the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. Both demonstrated that libraries are a smart investment by literally investing in them, just as the majority of Americans do with our tax dollars to this day.

Why do all of us agree on the issue of libraries despite disagreeing about so much else? Because libraries stand for values that transcend partisanship. Values like intellectual freedom, the right to privacy, self-reliance, and justice for all (to name a few) are implicit in the mission of any public library you enter. Certainly, the application of these values differs across the 16,536 public library buildings standing from sea to shining sea, still I suspect few would argue against us, as a nation, upholding the value of, for instance, justice for all.

Consensus on the common values held by public libraries and Americans, regardless of political preference, is one aspect of how libraries unify us. Beyond that is the down-to-earth trinity of health, wealth, and happiness, three qualities that, in themselves, elicit no war of words. Tell an enemy: “I wish good health to you and yours!” and they may look at you funny, but they won’t disagree. Turn that enemy on to the library, and you’ll make a new friend!

Health, wealth, and happiness? What do these have to do with libraries, you’re probably asking. I will explain:

  • Health: Modern libraries provide programs like exercise classes, educational lectures on nutrition, as well as credible books and other resources on health topics, and opportunities for people of all ages to form meaningful relationships with other members of the community. This latter quality is especially important because studies show that, “…a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality.
  • Wealth: You already know that libraries contain the latest investment guides and books on personal finance, but you may not be aware that libraries all over the country are actively boosting local economies by providing specialized resources and support for individual entrepreneurs and businesses. Business Librarians like  ,  , and Hanna Taylor (see: “A Day in the Life of a Small Business Specialist”) spend their days assisting regular people in developing business plans and connecting seasoned business owners with valuable market research. Of course, libraries are also wealth-builders for individuals as I (and many others) have written about in the past.
  • Happiness: Unfettered access to a education, entertainment, and cultural heritage all bring joy. But so do engaging programs, internet access, and interacting with your friendly neighborhood info-concierge; librarians exist to assist, and they do so in spades. As a library fan, seeing a library while I’m on vacation gives me a thrill, but I have no such expectations for everyone else. No, I believe that libraries enliven us in the simplest of ways — by stoking our curiosity, and giving us a chance to dream.

Now, those close to me know that I’m always good for a lively argument, yet libraries, as an institution, is one subject about which there is little disagreement. Libraries are a common good that benefit both red states and blue states, all ages, colors, and creeds. They uphold values that unify us, and provide communities across the United States with health, wealth, and happiness. They support us, and may we always support them!