Poet Archibald MacLeish captured the importance of libraries when he said, “What is more important in a library than anything else –than everything else– is the fact that it exists.” Libraries are so much more than repositories for books and periodicals; they are part of the social and educational lifeblood of communities. Here are four ways a well-run library can edify and uplift its community to make a lasting difference.
1. Encourage Teens to Read for Pleasure
Getting teens to read is a huge boon to literacy and a challenge that librarians are equipped to meet. Librarians can familiarize themselves with popular young adult literature and ensure that it gets its proper due in the budget. This genre explores issues and characters that teens find interesting and care about deeply, which helps lower their resistance to reading.
2. Provide a Safe, Educational Place for Children
Libraries have the ability to engender a lifelong love of books and learning beginning in childhood. In addition to books, libraries offer summer reading programs, after school programs, preschool programs, storytimes, and homework centers. According to a study by the Pennsylvania Library Association, libraries are uniquely positioned to expose children to books and “meaningful language opportunities that researchers say are crucial to reading achievement.” Similarly, studies have found that children who participate in library preschool programs show more emergent literacy behaviors and pre-reading skills than their peers.
3. Combat Deleterious Cultural Trends
Literature has the power to shape culture; and libraries, as purveyors of the printed word, can facilitate cultural transformations. Books can initiate the battle against pernicious stereotypes, but they will never win the war without librarians on the front lines as well.
For example, several recent adult and young adult titles have begun to take issue with our culture’s practice of “slut-shaming,” or branding and shaming sexually active girls. As professionals who work with youth often, librarians can make constructive use of the attention this issue receives in various forms of media by engaging with teens. That might mean sponsoring book discussion groups for teens or diversifying the library’s collection to include titles with varied discussions on teen sexuality.
4. Bridge the Information Gap
According to a recent study by the Department of Commerce, public libraries play a pivotal role in providing access to information technology to everyone. For instance, many adults had their first interactive experience with a computer at a public library. On campuses, libraries provide students with the information literacy skills require for academic and professional success. Finally, libraries play an important part in educating less tech-savvy adults –including parents, seniors, and children– by offering classes on Internet skills, Word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing, tablet use, and more.
Whether a librarian is grooming a future bibliophile with storytime, deconstructing stereotypes with teens in a discussion group, or teaching seniors how to use their iPads, they are making a difference in the community as a whole. By reaching out to all age demographics with various initiatives, libraries can leave an indelible positive mark on their communities and our culture.
For more information, visit USC’s Library and Information Science Online Degree Program.