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“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.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amy April 1, 2013, 11:02 am

    I love libraries always have. Lane told me once he loved the library because it’s the only place he goes where people don’t look at him weird when he’s having tics. The librarians just keep going about their business like it’s no big deal and the other people there are so into whatever it is they’re doing that they don’t notice either.

    • Josh Hanagarne April 1, 2013, 11:21 am

      That’s funny. Send him my way. I’m sure I can find someone to stare at him!

  • Eric West | Friendship Society April 1, 2013, 12:12 pm

    This is an interesting take on libraries that I hadn’t considered before, a place where everyone feels welcome. If only that feeling could spill over into the rest of the world.

  • Erin H April 1, 2013, 5:37 pm

    This is a wonderful way of describing a sentiment that I have always carried with me. I hope someday soon to be that librarian who can gracefully welcome each person into the library regardless of their apparent social status. I only wish it were more possible for me to make it clear to people like the ones described in your posting that they are indeed welcome inside. Who knows how many choose not to come in because they’re prejudged themselves unworthy?

  • Audrey Nay April 1, 2013, 7:17 pm

    Our school libraries are also very often havens for students with special needs or those who are feeling lonely, upset, bullied, lost, …
    A very important role 🙂

  • Ara Bedrossian April 2, 2013, 7:39 am

    Why do you think those homeless people you mention feel like they’re intruding at the library?

    • Josh Hanagarne April 2, 2013, 7:51 am

      I’m sure some of it is because they might feel like they’re intruding everywhere they go, and some of it is probably because they’re treated that way by others.

  • Daisy April 2, 2013, 9:29 am

    Libraries – and the kind and generous people who staff them.

  • Jerrie April 2, 2013, 9:51 am

    I love this. Libraries are some of my favorite places. I love to visit them when traveling, I get to see a wonderful mixture of locals. The beauty of libraries…open and welcoming to all.

    • Josh Hanagarne April 2, 2013, 11:01 am

      Do you have a favorite library you’ve found while traveling?

      • Jerrie April 2, 2013, 4:03 pm

        Since I’m from Washington I’m going to say the Seattle Public Library (awesome “red” hall and the wood floor on the bottom level!). I also LOVE university libraries…University of Washington, Indiana University, George Washington University. Love them!

        • Josh Hanagarne April 2, 2013, 8:41 pm

          I get to come to the Seattle library on my book tour and I can’t wait. I’ve never been in there.

          • Jerrie April 2, 2013, 8:45 pm

            And you’re going to Third Place Books, which I love as well. I’ll definitely be at one of those! Yay for your book!

          • Josh Hanagarne April 3, 2013, 8:17 am

            Yes, I’ll be at Third Place Books on May 18. Please come say hi!

  • Kateri April 2, 2013, 11:18 am

    Libraries are my sanctuary. They rank up there with getting a good massage. Walking through the doors of the library instantly relieves me of stress. I know that I can go find a quiet area and indulge any interest I have. My peace and quiet time.

    I also find that most other patrons of libraries understand this and are very unobtrusive. It’s like a silent camaraderie between readers.

  • Gypsy April 3, 2013, 7:50 pm

    Our local public Library is also my sons High school Library. I love that my younger boys (almost 2 & 5) can get a sense of what their big brother gets up to during the day. I also love that the big kids love the little one- he has a lot of fans in the class that comes into the library half way through story time.