Why libraries still really do matter
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Presidential libraries reportedly house an astounding 400 million pages of text documents and 10 million photographs. You have to imagine that, while the pundits were arguing amid the pageantry of the inauguration, Obama’s thoughts turned, if only for a moment or three, to the stately library that will surely be erected in his name –– I would guess in Hawaii.
Yes, libraries still really do matter, even if we live and breathe in an Internet world. A library collects and binds disparate information under a single roof. It solidifies our history, our place in time. That is, in part, why we build presidential libraries. For that matter, that’s why we build any libraries. They give meaning to our existence.
But libraries are more than information storage houses. On Long Island, they are our town halls and community centers. Government leaders hold constituent meetings there. They are also where civic and scout groups get together. Local artists show their work and musical groups perform –– often for the first time publicly –– at libraries. They are also where high schoolers study for the SATs and senior citizens practice yoga and learn painting.
At no time did the importance of the local library become clearer than during Hurricane Sandy. In my hometown, Merrick, the library had electricity within days of this terrible tempest, and storm victims crowded into it to recharge depleted cell-phone batteries and sit for a while in a clean, dry, warm place.
Some chatted with friends in quiet corners. Others read the paper to get the latest news. And, yes, many logged onto the Internet, often to file claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or to pay bills. I was among the victims who made frequent trips to the library. One time, I went to recharge my cell phone. The place was packed. I sat down at a wide table, in one of the few remaining empty chairs in the main reading room. Sunshine streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was nice. I felt good.