The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.
“There’s no such thing as too many books,” was sort of a mantra in my childhood home. We had thousands of books. Books about art, history, music, cooking. Novels, biographies. Books about long abandoned steam railroads that featured photographs that my father had taken.
When my parents purchased their home, the elderly owner was being moved to a nursing home out of state. His family was burning his books. My parents quickly put a stop to this horror and basement bookcases remained filled with his volumes 50 years later.
Family outings often involved a bookstore, or a library. Weekend trips to the neighborhood branch library ended with as many books as I could carry, either walking or on a bike. The downtown main library was a marvel with a massive children’s area and, when I was older, floor upon floor of stacks to explore.
As we mark National Library Week, libraries across the country are under threat.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives in Missouri, for example, eliminated all state funding for public libraries from their version of a state budget earlier this month. The move is largely symbolic as the state Senate is expected to restore the funding, although a new rule from the secretary of state threatens libraries under the guises of protecting minors from obscene and pornographic materials.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams proposed significant cuts in public library funding, which could lead to shorter hours and weekend closures at the city’s more than 200 libraries. He backed off those cuts this week.
Closer to home, city councilors in Lewiston have proposed budget cuts that would cause the library to reduce its hours. The library accounts for 2 percent of the city’s budget.
And, at school libraries across the country and in Maine, groups touting parental freedom seek to have books they object to removed from shelves. There were a record number of attempts to ban or restrict books in the U.S. last year.
All of these moves betray a misunderstanding of what libraries do, and why they are vital to our communities.
Sure, libraries are a source of reading material, and librarians are masters at helping you find just what you are looking for. But, they offer so much else. You can get audio books, music, movies — without even going to a library.
Many libraries now offer tools that you can borrow so you don’t have to buy something that you may only use once or twice. Some libraries host repair cafes where you can bring in malfunctioning electronics and other items to have them fixed by volunteers. The Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick hosts a gleaning table where organic gardeners give away their produce for free.
Others have outdoor gear that you can checkout. Want to visit a state park? Your local library may have a pass you can use — for free. Same with passes to museums and other attractions.
Besides all the things you can get from a library, there are countless things you can do at a library. Need a spot for a meeting? Your local library probably has one. They also usually have computers with fast internet and printers, which are helpful for remote working and for telehealth appointments.
Although typically not thought of as one, libraries are vital social service agencies. In many communities, libraries are where students go after school, ostensibly to do their homework, but also to hang out with friends rather than being home alone.
With few other options in the state’s cities, libraries have become a gathering place for those seeking shelter, warmth and activities. The Bangor Public Library even added a social worker to help connect unhoused people with services in the city.
Because they are safe and supervised, libraries are often used for supervised visits under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We fill gaps in services in our communities,” Wynter Giddings, the president of the Maine Library Association, told me this week.
Giddings, the manager of adult services and technology at the Curtis Library, pointed me to an online calculator that can tally how much monetary value a library may mean to you.
As a graduate of Bowdoin College, where I too often fell asleep while studying in the library, I don’t remember all the lines from a sort-of poem called “The Offer of the College.” But, I remember this one:
“To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket.”
To twist it a bit, libraries offer us keys to the world. They are treasures that we are too quick to overlook and undervalue, and increasingly, to malign.