In this digital age, it might be easy to dismiss libraries as archaic and destined to go the way of hand-written letters and phone booths.
And it might be easy, particularly for someone who hasn’t stepped foot in one for many years, to assume libraries are places of dusty books, no longer worth community investment and support in the era of e-readers and other media.
But that would be misguided because libraries are becoming more relevant than ever and are far more than a quiet place to borrow books.
As League City grows, it’s considering building another library. League City staff members have presented a list of $230 million in projects to include in a possible May bond election.
Staff allocated $23 million of that for a library on the growing west side of town.
Already, there’s been some public murmuring questioning the logic of a library in light of drainage issues the city faces. Others believe libraries are obsolete.
“Next thing you know they will be wanting to use tax dollars to preserve the buggy whip industry,” one online reader quipped.
But U.S. residents still value libraries and insist they play an important role in communities they serve. And it goes beyond sentimentality or efforts to hold on to the familiar past.
“The common argument is that libraries are really a public good,” said Emily Knox, an associate professor of school information sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“A lot of people don’t have access to Kindles, computers and a quiet place to study. A local public library provides that for them. It’s one of the few places that still exist within a community to offer that to people.”
Libraries offer the public free access to history centers and classes on varying topics, including on computer skills. They assist in job searches and provide access to new technology, including 3-D printers among other innovations. Libraries are some of the first places to offer public access to such technology that would otherwise be out of reach for many people.
Libraries began first as an effort to preserve texts in ancient times, but public libraries spread rapidly in America with the arrival of immigrants. Tycoon Andrew Carnegie funded the building of about 1,700 libraries in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
While that mission — being an information provider to a community — remains the same as it did when libraries began centuries ago, what that looks like in each community differs, Knox said.
To lose the instinct that motivated Americans to open lending libraries in almost every community is to lose one of the best parts of the American character — the idea that knowledge, above all, should be available to everyone.
Libraries are among our most enduring symbols of our egalitarian roots.
League City and other communities should invest in public libraries. Libraries are among the few places that offer local reference resources usually unavailable elsewhere. They are lifelines to information and resources, available to everyone no matter how much or how little money they make.
League City should continue its efforts to grow its library system and continue to value libraries as a vital part of a community, not out of some quaint nostalgia, but as a meaningful way to provide a valuable and necessary resource to all its residents.
• Laura Elder