In many ways the 21st century public library and its role have been re-imagined. In this digital age the library has become much more than a repository for great books. Libraries are promoters of community as well. Take a look at the Morrill Memorial Library events happening in the month of April alone. We have everything from Musical Sundays to talks on Stone Carvers of Old – from Beginning Yoga to The Secret Lives of Owls.
Part of our shifting role includes providing information on the run. As mentioned by the Brookings Institute, “This ‘go-to’ role has influenced library programming and events, with libraries providing advice and connections to health, housing, literacy, and other areas.” Or, in author Neil Gaiman’s words, the library is “a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world.”
And yes, I could not agree more. In this digital world the library serves as a connector, providing access to information through workshops and speakers and more. At the heart of it all though, the library returns to two essential ingredients 1) free access to information and 2) our beloved readers.
In many ways the idea of free information for all began in Franklin, MA. The Franklin Public Library is considered America’s “first public library” because of Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s book donation for the use of the town’s residents in 1778. The original Franklin collection is still housed in the library’s Reading Gallery, and the United States is now populated by public libraries from sea to shining sea. According to the American Library Association, an estimated 116,867 public libraries exist today. Thankfully, the Morrill Memorial Library is one of them.
Several times at the library I have been approached by a person who recently immigrated to the United States. They cannot believe that our programs and services are free; this world is at their fingertips. Not only is this true here, but in the next town, and the town after that, and the one across the state, and across the country.
Which leads to the other essential ingredient at the heart of our libraries—our beloved reader, the person who lives and breathes for a good book. The person who enters the library, whether child or aged 102, with an empty tote bag, excited to fill it with 5, 10, 15 new reads. For FREE!!
During my years working in the Outreach Department, I have had the privilege of becoming a friend to many beloved readers. Often they are unable to come to the library on their own, so our volunteers deliver books and other items to them. While they miss browsing the bookshelves, they are grateful when these treasures arrive at their doorstep. It’s like a having a birthday every few weeks.
I have worked with many of these beloved patrons over the years but a few have stood out in my mind. Annette Webber was surely one. Sadly, she passed away this March just shy of her 93rdbirthday. Every other week her Outreach volunteer delivered about 15-20 books to her. The most amazing thing was her interests were limitless. Not only did she reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee but she gave Lee’s latest novel Go Set a Watchman a try as well. She always loved biographies, especially about politicians. The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher and A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler were two of her latest. However Annette could not be pigeon-holed onto a certain shelf. All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row by James Paterson and Alex Abramovich was also one of her reads, along with Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis.
Sylvia Clark was another life-long learner. I first met Sylvia when I was running a book discussion at Benchmark Senior Living. She had lost much of her eyesight from macular degeneration but as soon as she realized she could borrow a CD player and audio books from the library, she signed right up. Later I learned that she was an educator who had taught at Maynard High School, Needham High School and Regis College. How I marveled that she was willing to become an auditory learner when necessary. Historical fiction was a favorite genre of hers and she relished books like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. That said she could tackle a mystery series with equal aplomb, so we would toss in a James Patterson or Daniel Silva novel to keep her going.
Of course these are just two examples of the many beloved readers who have loved the library and all its treasures. It’s nice to know our patrons need the library as much as the library needs them. While the library has stepped boldly into the 21st century, our doors are always open to the patron who is searching for the perfect read.