Although a controversial businessman in many ways, Andrew Carnegie was only in his 30’s when he adopted the belief that he was merely the shepherd of his wealth. In the late 1800’s he gave $60 million dollars to fund a system of 1,689 public libraries across the United States. During our 6,000 mile trek across the USA this summer, the local public library in many towns became our community.
As we traversed Europe over the past couple of years, we marveled at the National Libraries in Madrid and Paris. We will never forget the way the light danced off the dark, rich shelves in the Trinity College Library in Dublin as we awaited our glimpse of the Book of Kells. We were in awe of the architectural grandeur of the libraries throughout Europe that made us feel small and welcome in the same breath.
After landing in New Zealand almost a month ago, the libraries have once again grounded us in a foreign place. The fact that the books are in English has made our transition seamless. The kids have spent hours meeting friends while building Legos available for checkout at the Wellington City Library. They have participated in crafts, signed up for coding classes, and perused local art on display at various Hutt City Library branches where we have made our temporary home.
The physical libraries have become our anchor – the places we venture when we feel like we are drifting and we need time to ground ourselves. The virtual tools are our constant beacon. When we are too far from anything to visit a local library, we rely on our downloaded books, music, and magazines for entertainment.
Library systems the world over have been our playground, our school, and our shelter from a storm. Libraries have opened us up to aspects of a culture we never would have seen without walking through its doors. At the same time, they have given us consistency when we felt that nothing at all made sense.
What we love most about the public libraries we have visited, now spanning three continents, is that although each building has its own culture, the values are universally palatable. Each branch may articulate their values differently, but what we have felt, without exception, in every library, in every country, state or province, is:
- You are welcome to come in
- You are welcome to work
- You are welcome to play
- You are welcome to ask for help and share experiences
- You are welcome to engage in anything we have to offer
- You are welcome to escape in a corner all your own and block out the world for a while
- You are welcome to see how we are embracing the future through our virtual offerings
- You are welcome to see how we have preserved the past through the heritage we protect and support
- You are welcome because you are the reason we are here
I heard you are welcome as a child when we would take big trips to the Seattle Public Libraries. I heard you are welcome as I looked for a place to spend time with my three toddlers at the Kitsap Regional Libraries. I heard you are welcome when we were in remote areas of Slovenia and the Czech Republic, and I could check out books from my hometown Bainbridge Public Library that would magically appear on my Kindle. I heard you are welcome when my son received his New Zealand Hutt City Library card this week in the mail and begged to go check “stuff” out!
You are welcome, you are welcome, you are welcome …
Everyone is welcome at the library which is what makes it a true nucleus for a healthy community, or in the words of Andrew Carnegie, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert.”