“Why Are Libraries Important?”

Recently in an interview I was asked, “Why are libraries so important to you?  Why should they be important to anyone?”

There are many, many reasons, but this one is the most important to me:

I believe that libraries give dignity to anyone who walks through their doors.  You can walk in without anyone having already decided who you are. Any librarian will help you find whatever you want, provided it exists and we have it. You can read whatever you choose, ask whatever questions you want, and learn about whatever interests you.  And you can do all of this anonymously and for free.

My library  is used by large numbers of homeless patrons.  More than once in the past month I’ve heard a homeless person apologize for asking for help.  It breaks my heart. 

“Sorry to bother you.”

“I know you’re busy, but I’m looking for–”

“I know that this place isn’t really for people like me, but…”

And every time, each person seems genuinely surprised to hear one of us say, “You’re not bothering me.”  “We’re here for everyone, including you.”  “You don’t owe me an explanation for anything.”

A couple of weeks ago a man told me, “I come here because I’m ignored everywhere else. Some of it’s my fault, some of it isn’t. This is the only place where I feel welcome.”

When I said “While you’re here, you’re no different than anyone else,” he hugged me, even though I said I’m just doing my job.

I’d never been prouder to be part of this work, and I don’t think it’s ever been more necessary.