Fourteen Ways Public Libraries Are Good for the Country

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by George M. Eberhart

Originally appeared in The Librarian's Book of Lists (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2010).

1. Public libraries encourage democracy.

Public libraries provide access to information and multiple points of view so that citizens can make informed decisions on public policy.
2. Public libraries break down boundaries.

Public libraries offer services and programs for people at all literacy levels, readers with little or no English skills, homebound senior citizens, prisoners, homeless or impoverished individuals, and persons with physical or learning disabilities.
3. Public libraries level the playing field.

Public libraries make their resources available to everyone in the community, regardless of income or social status.
4. Public libraries value independent thought.

Public libraries offer choices between mainstream and alternative viewpoints, between traditional and visionary concepts, and between monocultural and multicultural perspectives.
5. Public libraries nourish creativity.

By providing an atmosphere that stimulates curiosity, public libraries create opportunities for unstructured learning and serendipitous discovery.
6. Public libraries offer sanctuary.

By providing an atmosphere conducive to reflection, public libraries induce a feeling of serenity and transcendence that opens the mind to new ideas and interpretations.
7. Public libraries animate young minds.

Children’s and young adult librarians offer story hours, book talks, summer reading activities, career planning, art projects, gaming competitions, and other programs to spark youthful imaginations.
8. Public libraries extend family activities.

Public libraries offer an alternate venue for parents and their children to enhance activities traditionally conducted at home by providing homework centers, parenting collections, after-school programs, outreach, one-on-one reading, and early literacy programs.
9. Public libraries build 21st-century skills.

Public library services and programs foster critical-thinking skills, problem-solving aptitude, visual and scientific literacy, cross-disciplinary thinking, information and media literacy, productivity and leadership skills, civic literacy, global awareness, and health and environmental literacy.
10. Public libraries serve as technology hubs.

Public libraries offer a wide range of public access computing and internet access services at no charge to users. In 2009, more than 71% of U.S. libraries reported that they were the only provider of free computer and internet access in their communities.
11. Public libraries offer a lifeline to the unemployed.

Public library patrons search for jobs online, polish résumés with word processing software, fill out applications, research new professions, sign up for career workshops, and look for financial assistance.
12. Public libraries return high dividends.

Public libraries return to their communities anywhere from $1.30 to $10.00 in services for every $1.00 invested in them. In 2009, librarians delivered more than 428 million hours of service annually (206,000 U.S. librarians x 40 hours a week x 52 weeks). How valuable is your local library? Use the handy Library Value Calculator created by the Massachusetts Library Association.
13. Public libraries build communities.

People gather at the public library to find and share information, experience and experiment with the arts and media, and engage in community discussions and games.
14. Libraries preserve the past.

Public libraries are repositories of community history, oral narratives, and audiovisual records of events and culture. When these local resources are digitized and placed online as digital libraries, communities and cultures 1,000 miles away can share in the experience.