With the world at our fingertips via the click of a mouse or the touch of a mobile phone screen, are libraries and newspapers necessary anymore, especially in small towns? It’s a legitimate question that’s being asked across the country, a question that’s often driven by economics as the cost of newspapers increases and the strained budgets of cities struggle with funding a library.
How a person answers the question will be determined by two things: how they themselves use the two resources and what they believe the functions of local libraries and small-town newspapers are.
I will admit that I am now a senior citizen and that I have not checked out a book from a public library in decades, even though as a child I loved going to the library and checking out books. So, on the surface you would think that I would see no point in having a local library, but the truth is the opposite and that is because what libraries used to be a long time ago and what they need to be in the present and for the future are radically different.
According to a recent Pew Research study, 53 percent of Millennials (those 18-35) in the United States visited a library at least once in 2016, more than in any other generation. Why is that?
- Books are more expensive than ever (even though there are hundreds of thousands of books on Amazon for 99 cents, it’s important to remember that not all young people have the necessary technology nor the money to get them)
- Libraries offer quiet spaces for young people to gather and work on projects, do research, or do homework. Quiet, conflict-free spaces in homes are harder and harder to find.
- Successful libraries are offering services that people can’t find elsewhere: learning English as a second language, teaching how to build a resume, filling out a job application online, a place where self-help groups (like divorce recovery, grief recovery, 12-Step groups) can meet, mentors can meet with their mentees without being disturbed, parenting classes, classes on divorce recovery, meeting place for book clubs.
- Children’s libraries promote literacy through scores of specialized programs and events.
“Libraries are the great symbols of the freedom of the mind.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“If information is the currency of democracy, then libraries are its banks.” Senator Wendell Ford
“Freedom is found through the portals of our nation’s libraries.” David McCullough
My research on the topic of local libraries led me to the conclusion that people today who have wealth and position have less of a need for libraries than those who do not, which leads to the problem that the very ones who will have to help pay for a library don’t want to because they think it is an unnecessary expense. However, it is vital in our narcissistic world of today to remember the obligation we have to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves, and supporting a local library is just one of the ways that can be done.
So, where do small-town newspapers fit into this discussion? First of all, to compare small-town newspapers to large metropolitan newspapers or national news organizations is to miss the point. Small-town newspapers are about me and my friends and neighbors. They are chock-full of good news (as opposed to the doomsday spin the national media puts on every story) and feel-good stories. It is there that I can learn what has been going on down the street or what is going to be happening soon. They make an effort to keep the local government honest by reporting on what happens in council meetings and board meetings. Citizens are invited to air their unedited gripes and concerns on the editorial page. A photographic record is displayed of children who have achieved success of every conceivable kind—sports, music, dance, reading, academics, beauty pageants. Local, small businesses are promoted.
If we lose our local library or small-town newspaper, then we lose a piece of ourselves and what connects us to each other. Therefore, both are worthy of our generous support.