When I was young, a brand-new public library opened right next to my elementary school, which was also walking distance from where I lived. It was magical – spacious and full of color, and the children’s section had a series of lights on the ceiling in the shape of a giant balloon. 8-year-old me was entranced. I would walk there with my mom and sister all the time, and walk home with my arms full of wonderful books to read. I was a much more avid reader back then – but as required readings in high school and college started stacking up, I stopped visiting the library. Most of us think books are the only things offered at the library, and that’s why many of us think that libraries are “dying”. But the truth is they’re not dying at all – they’re evolving into integral epicenters of the community.
I didn’t give much thought to libraries as I got older, until 2017 when I got a summer job at a public library in Florida. I thought I would just check books in and out, but I ended up doing so much more – I helped elderly community members navigate the internet, helped a man with one arm apply for jobs, handed out free meals to families, and countless other moments that made real impacts on people in the community. That experience sparked an incredible passion for libraries ever since. In a country covered in signs saying “bathrooms for paying customers only”, libraries provide one of the only completely free space for people to just exist, and if they wish, learn and engage with their community in a life-changing way.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore is a perfect example of how libraries can provide crucial resources to the community outside of lending books. Different branches in the city provide services such as job search assistance, free legal advice and social work resources, passport applications, and long-term laptop and wi-fi hotspot lending. They even have a mobile job center that travels to different neighborhoods in Baltimore to give community members greater access to finding employment (pictured below left). Isn’t that truly incredible??? Even though they had to close their doors during most of the pandemic, they are now back in full force and offering free at-home rapid tests and face masks to all Baltimoreans. Enoch Pratt is not an isolated case – libraries all over the country are finding creative and meaningful ways to serve their surrounding communities, like Henrico County Public Library in Virginia providing desks with playpens for working parents (pictured below right).
If you know me, you’ve probably already heard my spiel about how amazing libraries are. But if you didn’t know before, you know now – libraries are pretty darn amazing! And if you haven’t visited your local library recently, I urge you to go, get a free library card, and see what unexpected wonders are inside!