Dear Libraries, First and foremost, I want to say that I love you. I have for a bazillion years.
When we first met, I knew you were special, unlike anything else under the sun. What I saw with my child-eyes were books and ideas filling your shelves, a place of quiet welcome for anyone who desired to explore. But since those early days, when your depth and mystery intimidated my rambunctious young self, I’ve gotten to know you. You’ve changed. We both have. You are so much more beautiful than I could have imagined.
Over the decades, you’ve adapted to the needs and desires of the community, remaining faithful to your core belief in the life-changing power of reading, while flexible in how people experience it. Some like to hold your books in their hands. Others like to be read to. Still others like to read on hand-held devices. You said, “It’s all good,” and adjusted. Today, all you ask is that a person be born and live within your county limits for you to spread out your hands like Vanna White and say, “You see this? It’s all yours. Welcome to the gift of being alive.”
I’m lucky to be on the inside, to experience your world from behind the circulation desk. Every day I marvel at the fact that it remains the one place in our communities where absolutely everyone is welcome: the women who want the latest Ashley Antoinette, the men searching for Ibram X. Kendi, and the children wanting Jason Reynolds. The parents searching for family movies. The socially attuned learning about Black Lives Matter. The teens exploring what it means to be queer. Young and old, Black and white, wealthy and barely making it. All of us, gathering together, entering and exiting, sharing the simple gift of curiosity, learning what it means to be human.
There are those on the computers writing resumes, needing unemployment benefits, taking online courses, or needing help downloading pictures of grandchildren. I often think of Michigan author Annie Spence’s quote, “There is no other place where you can go and basically say, ‘I need help with this area of my life’ and someone will respond, ‘All right, let’s figure this out.’”
To say that this past year has been difficult would be an understatement. Like most organizations you had to limit services to keep everyone safe. People turned to subscriptions, often paying for things they can get free from you. I believe they’ll come back. In fact, I already see great evidence of that with your Summer Reading Challenge inviting them in and restrictions being lifted.
I also see people realigning, asking themselves what’s truly important and living with that intentionality. Community matters. Diversity of thought and ideas matter. Learning and growing and changing matter. Laughter and entertainment and education and joy are essential. You are a beacon of light in these realms.
Beloved libraries, you can be proud of who you are in this world. You are among the best of what America offers, a truly democratic space where all are welcome through the doors (or through an online portal) and are invited to explore or to get the assistance they need. The people with whom I work, and I are ready with the simple words, “How can I help?” and several lifetimes of diverse interests, training, and knowledge. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll figure it out together.
Never doubt your place in this world. You are needed. Appreciated. Loved.
Eileen Button teaches at Mott Community College and serves patrons at the Genesee District Library. She can be reached at button. firstname.lastname@example.org.