Op-Ed: The Important Role of Libraries in Building Community

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Recently, the New York Times travel section published a piece on libraries as tourist attractions replete with gorgeous photos. How exciting to see phenomenal libraries from places as diverse as Doha, Texas, China and Scandinavia celebrated. Author Alyson Krueger looked at the beautiful designs, the interesting offerings, dollars spent and number of visitors welcome, leaving no doubt these magnificent buildings are worthy of tourists’ time and interest. This latest piece joins similar articles written in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and The Atlantic over the past couple of years. Clearly libraries are experiencing a renaissance and people are taking notice.  

Lisa Oldham, director of New Canaan Library

The implications of so many cities all over the world investing in libraries today are numerous. What is driving this high level of investment in this type of public infrastructure?  What are the values held in common by a society that chooses to invest so significantly in libraries? What are libraries delivering to their communities that makes them so attractive and worthy of all these column inches of journalism real-estate?  Support for productivity, nurturing creativity, experiential learning and of course great collections of books are just some that the recent New York Times article pointed out.

Looking deeper and beyond the beautiful images, libraries operate as community anchors, constructing social capital. I think a lot about the role of libraries in communities to serve as platforms for communal learning and how this mission has transcended the millennia and the evolution of technologies, from papyrus scroll to digital download.

In fact, the foremost feature of a great library is its connection to its community. This means that each library’s evolutionary trajectory will increasingly reflect the needs of the constituency it serves. By extension, libraries will move further from the templated form and function of the early 20th century and expand to provide resources that advance collective goals. Here in New Canaan that includes supporting the tens of non-profit organizations that work to make this town the exceptional place that we choose to call home by providing meeting spaces, collaborating on projects and working together on programs. 

Equally important is the facilitation of knowledge creation. Our focus on our community guides us here too. Understanding the universally high level of education as well as the very high value parents place on their children’s learning and literacy means that we strategically direct our resources to developing and delivering best in class learning opportunities for every age. This includes the early literacy curriculum that starts with infants in our children’s room, the STEAM curriculum delivered by our technology educator in our MakerLab and the high quality adult lectures, classes and workshops. New Canaan Library’s talented team works to facilitate the creation of knowledge each day. We constantly strive to better know our members and to understand their learning interests so that our rich collections of print and digital materials and our hundreds of learning programs reflect and support their interests.

This focus on community and dedication to serving its needs is what attracts visitors through our doors. Once here, they not only feed their imaginations and pursue their learning passions but more importantly connect with neighbors, interacting together and creating the bonds that strengthen our town. It is a privilege to work at the intersection of community and learning and to ensure that New Canaan Library is the strongest possible platform for supporting the diverse learning and cultural aspirations of the community through our people, our collections, programs and spaces.

8 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Important Role of Libraries in Building Community

  1. Some things have been lost along the way . A peaceful space. Constant
    Loud chatter, not from visitors, but from staff. The click clack of
    Computers. A entire roomful of computers. Empty shelves. Authors from the past not even housed in the library anymore. What has been lost
    Is a library. If you want to read an old book in a quiet space, stay home,
    You won’t find that experience at the library.

    • Well stated, Pamela. Empty shelves and the cacophony of chatter bother me most – lost is the opportunity to wander and discover a book or author on our own, or rediscover something we had been meaning to read. Now a central meeting place for business, tutoring sessions and local groups (including my own Stitch Club, on occasion), our lovely library has become more of a community center.

  2. Our Library has a good book collection, and it will purchase a book if one recommends it. The Library makes available a dozen or so copies of our monthly Men’s Club Book Group book — “The Last Days of Night” this month. The Library also has good collections of DVD movies, TV shows and instructionals, and CDs of all types of music. The periodical room has up-to-date newspapers and magazines and comfortable chairs, and a quiet atmosphere. I attend a fun and informative Short Story Meetup each week at the Library. We also attend Yale Science Diplomat monthly presentations, and learn from each one. And we attend author talks that are fascinating. When I have a question about my iPhone or my iPad I get lots of help at the Library. I’ve learned about virtual reality and genealogy at the Library. The Library also provides e-books and audio books which I can download without leaving home. And I can view magazines such as Consumer Reports, and newspapers like the New York Times without leaving home. When the electric power is off at home, the Library gives warmth, light, books, bathrooms and a place to charge our iPhones. For me, our Library is a fine resource, and it does build community.

    • You make me dizzy! So much stuff. My point has been defined
      By you. Not a sanctuary for books and thought. Just a lot of
      Stuff going on. Such a busy busy place. I miss the peace of a library.
      And it’s definitely a community center, but no longer a library. It’s
      Sad comment on our times. Being busy doesn’t necessarily make a life. Just my old fashion opinion!

  3. Eloquently stated. Proud of your outstanding commitment to make my hometown library so vital to the community. Let’s go forward!

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