I was wondering in times of recession, as municipalities have less and less money to spend on programs and services as do their citizens, why it is that the public libraries whose hours are usually one of the first things to shrink as a money-saving idea, tend to become more popular as those with limited incomes seek entertainment and information.
It was sort of like shooting fish in a barrel to find sources to support the level and breadth at which this has been happening across the USA, just by clicking here. At the time I entered the phrase in a search engine (sorry, Bing, you're not my choice), there were 1.4 million mentions identified in less a quarter of a second.
I got to thinking, not about cell phone bandwidth (yesterday I learned a new thing, though I would've preferred, Rabbi, that you take a crack at my Thermos question), but about how long it would have taken me to have gone to the public library to have found, basically, the same references as the computer did in an eye blink.
And that in turn led me to wonder why people go to the public library, no matter the season or the economic climate. Those motivations and needs are, I imagine, as diverse as the folks who patronize the public libraries. In Norwich, many offer as a truism that 'those people' (and we know who that is and whom we mean, trust me on this one) congregate outside of the Otis Library in downtown, just down the block from the Saint Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen and not all that far away from some of the underpasses where those whose boats were NOT lifted by the last decade's rising tide of prosperity have come to anchor.
If I had a dime for every time I've read a reference to 'those people' in a local newspaper or heard someone speak of them, I'd have enough money to buy the Norwich YMCA (not as funny a joke as I'd first hoped especially if we, the taxpayers, become the punchline). Whenever I go downtown, and I walked through it on Monday to visit City Hall (speaking of taxes, as I was, to go to the Assessor's office) and then across town to the Post Office, I NEVER see any of 'those people' outside (or inside) the library or anywhere else.
Norwich doesn't have an especially vibrant downtown though there's a lot of individual efforts by small businesses and property owners. I love walking past the old Woolworth's (I suspect that's what it was back in the day) not because I'm happy for the day-laborer business that's taken up shop inside (though for many people in search of a job, it's a different reaction) but because I can remember being a kid, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and how much fun stores like Woolworth's and J. J. Newberry were and how they were so much a part of everyday growing up life in a town about the size of Norwich--New Brunswick, New Jersey.
It was as true in Brunswick then as it is in Norwich now, that people look to a public library in an urban landscape the way the fingers of the hand look to the thumb. There are so many services and so many products available, everyone meets in the same space and place. Public libraries, by accident or design, may be the most distinctly iconic symbol of American democracy, up there with Old Glory and the Bald Eagle (which is NOT my nickname, yet).
This morning, and you have something similar going on in your neighborhood I'll bet, we have in the Otis Library, starting at 10:30, some, part or all of the Democratic slate seeking election to the office of Mayor and the City Council (and maybe, but I'm not sure, the Board of Education members as well), hosting a forum in the upstairs community room of the library. It's another chance to learn more about the candidates and their positions and goals (and how they intend to achieve them). I'm told they'll be taking questions.
"Now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores, seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more. They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman says these jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back to your hometown." Start with that one and ask them what they intend to do about it. And no rush, the Otis Library is open 'til three on Saturdays.