I love libraries. I grew up with a library as one of the central poles around which my young life rotated–my school, my home, my neighborhood, my library. When I was a boy we probably went to my local library once a week or more, always stripping the racks bare of books about spaceships, aliens, ray guns and, later, monsters and sons of bitches, both real and imaginary. The first serious writing I ever did was because of my local library (it was in the lobby that I found the entry form for the Avon Flare Young Novelists Competition, for which I wrote my first full book, at age 14 or 15) and, in the summer, I took classes at the library that taught me all sorts of interesting things (most notably: where in the stacks to go to kiss a girl and not get caught).
Now that I’m older, I go to the library less but I love it just the same. And, apparently, I’m not alone. PEW Research came out with a big study last month which asked Americans how they felt about libraries and the response was…heartening. Had you asked me last week whether or not I thought most Americans valued libraries I would’ve guessed that most of them wouldn’t have known where their local library was and that more than half wouldn’t have bothered pissing on it if it was burning, I am a bit of a pessimist and was proven totally wrong by the data. To wit…
95% of Americans ages 16 and older agree that the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed
95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading
94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community
81% say that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere
What’s more, 54% have used a library in the past year, 63% say closing their local library would have a “major impact” on their community and 91% say they actually know where their local library is and could get there if they wanted to (even if only about half of those respondents have actually been there recently).
Point is, this is some good news for the new year–data proving that people are not quite so stupid, callous or functionally illiterate as my darker self sometimes wants to believe they are. Fact is, a majority of people out there really like libraries. And I like libraries. So that gives me and all the peoples something in common, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If I had one handy, I’d hug a librarian right now.
Anyway, if you’re feeling a bit ragged in this new year of ours, check out the full study. It’ll make you feel good about the future and people in general, and the next time you see some local politician wringing his hands and saying that we have to close libraries because they are a luxury the community can no longer afford, you’ll have some ammunition to fight back with–facts and data and public opinion, which are better than a pocket full of silver bullets when dealing with The Man.