by Steve Laube
It all began in elementary school. I discovered our city’s public library with the help of my mom. I soon began walking there regularly after school. While there, in what seemed to be a massive building, I would explore the rows and rows of books. Plucking one off the shelf here and there and skimming pages. And one day discovered a complete section of books on medieval knights and their armor. I spent hours pouring over those illustrations and reading all about medieval warfare.
Later, in high school, I spent one semester as the librarian’s aide. She and I would race to see who could file things in the card catalog faster. (Yes, back then we had a card catalog.)
In college I spent my junior year, one full Summer, and the first semester senior year working in the college library. I even explored the possibility of getting a Masters degree in Library Science. There was a certain satisfaction in helping other students find the right material for their research or showing them how to use various pieces of equipment. I even spent time in the back room repairing broken bindings and cataloging the rare book collection.
This past weekend there was the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis and had me thinking about the impact of the Library on my life and today in my profession as a literary agent. One fascinating Pew Research study found:
Nearly “90% of Americans ages 16 and older said that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community, with 63% saying it would have a ‘major’ impact. Asked about the personal impact of a public library closing, two-thirds (67%) of Americans said it would affect them and their families, including 29% who said it would have a major impact.”
It is a sad thing when municipal budgets cut library hours, services, and resource budgets. It is as if many don’t realize how vital a strong library system is to our society. Instead they see the library as a luxury. A non-essential.
I’ve said it this way, “The public library system is the largest bookstore chain in the country and few realize it. If a book is sold to only a tiny percent of the branches your book could sell thousands of copies!” Even with digital initiatives changing the nature of libraries, they still buy books. Lots of books. (Publishers are finding ways of selling ebooks to libraries so they can be checked out by the public. The link is to a Forbes article on the topic.)
One estimate claims there are 120,000 libraries in the U.S. Of those 9,000 are public libraries (which also have an additional 7,000 branches = 16,000 buildings). There are another 98,000 school libraries, both public and private.
As I was thinking about this post and the job our librarians do I stumbled across this great interview with a librarian published only a few days ago. Read it here.
For authors there is a great service called Library Insider (click here to visit the site) Developed by Books and Such Literary Agency and Judy Gann, herself a librarian, it helps writers market their books to libraries across the country.
Back to the title of this post. When was the last time you went to your local library? Have you shown appreciation for the work they do? Consider joining a local group that supports your library system. Give them a proverbial hug.
As Neil Gaiman said, in his brilliant lecture “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming“:
“Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”