Public Libraries: The Hub of Our Communities

By Senville, Wayne | Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Public Libraries: The Hub of Our Communities


Senville, Wayne, Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services


Sometimes the key to a vibrant, healthy community centre can be right under our nose, hidden in plain sight. For too long public libraries have been under appreciated by decision makers and funders, often drawing less interest and attention than a new sports arena, shopping complex, office tower or theatre. This has begun to change as more communities and their elected and other decision makers are recognising the economic and other engines which public libraries provide. The troublesome cloud over this bright picture in the US and in Australia is lack of state funding at the same time as states lavish support on many economic development projects, sometimes of questionable value.

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This article was published in the summer 2009 issue of the Planning commissioners journal, the principal US publication for 'citizen planners,' including town, city, and regional planning commissioners. Its text is reprinted with permission, and the original full version, including photographs of US libraries, is available as a pdf from pcoffice@gmail.com. For more information about the Planning commissioners journal visit its website and blog at www.plannersweb.com.

The issues, challenges and outcomes for communities of better investment in public libraries have a US emphasis, but resonate well with the lack of public library awareness among still too many decision makers in Australia and New Zealand. Aplis readers are therefore urged to supply copies of the original of this article for awareness raising to local government senior managers, planners, elected members and state and national politicians Alan Bundy editor

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. Andrew Carnegie

Is there a place in your community where residents of all ages and incomes visit and enjoy spending their time?

* where people go to hear interesting speakers discuss new ideas, books, travel, and a broad range of topics?

* where comprehensive databases are available free of charge?

* where you can get help when applying for a job?

* where you can stop by and take home a book, cd, or dvd at virtually no cost?

That is also a place

* that's 'owned' by everyone in the community?

* and can be counted on, day after day, to draw people downtown or to main street?

In a growing number of cities and towns, there's one place that answers all these questions: the public library.

Anchors for our cities and towns

Dramatic new or renovated libraries have become cornerstones of downtown in dozens of US cities, including Denver, San Antonio, Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake City, to name a few.

Noted architect and writer Witold Rybczynski offers an online slide show titled How do you build a public library in the age of Google? (1) His main point: libraries are far from dead in today's internet age--in fact, they are making a comeback as key anchors in our downtowns. Indeed, they are bringing us full circle to the 'end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, when cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago built ambitious public libraries'.

It is important to recognise, however, that it is not just big cities that benefit from libraries. In fact smaller cities and towns may have even more to gain from having a thriving library as they do not have the range of community gathering places that larger cities often have.

Reporter Annie Stamper writes that

   No more just a place to find books, today's
   library is a place that extends far beyond its
   physical walls with the addition of digital
   information and access. Particularly in small
   towns, the library is often the hub of the
   community, providing a place for residents to
   meet, as well as to learn. … 

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