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Pondering A Country Without Libraries

Courtesy of Neal Hughlett
Booth and Dimock Memorial Library, in Coventry, Conn.

In President Donald Trump's proposed budget, he eliminates federal support for public libraries throughout the country. The White House has said these cuts – and others – are about fiscal responsibility, and an effort to "redefine the proper role of the federal government." 

But the move has commentator Erin Valentino thinking about what she sees as the crucially important places that libraries take us.

Libraries. They’re just always there, in your town or at your school. Part of the scene. We take them for granted about as much as we do the roads where we live. But where would we be without them?

I'm a librarian at a college, so anything I say might seem to smack of self-interest. But my devotion to them way pre-dates my working life.

I grew up in farm country back when kids roamed barefoot and free in the humid summer. Bayard Taylor Library was a favorite destination. Full disclosure: the library was air-conditioned. It was a place for me and my sister and cousins to escape to – dirty feet, sweat and all – and to escape in. There, in the cool and quiet, we could make our own choices – what to read, and what to explore, imagine and dream.

My now-grown sister observes: libraries are experiments in trust. You borrow books. Delight in them. Treat them well. Return them. She says they reflect people's inherent goodness.

My North Star is wherever the library is. I'm uplifted by the mere sight of one – like my local one, with its Carnegie-era charm.

My family's love of libraries isn't unique. You should hear the stories I get when I tell people I'm a librarian. Everywhere I go. Everyone has at least one that they really want to tell me.

Public libraries are all about connection. Not just of people to information, but of people to each other. One way they do it is by creating programs tied into local culture. These days I live in rural Connecticut, and a major hit at my tiny library is when the "chicken man" comes to discuss best practices for raising chickens.

But another way libraries connect us is by offering classes like English for non-English speakers, and how to use apps on your phone. Or by delivering books to home-bound people.

There's nothing that replaces what libraries do: benevolent social connection. Access for everybody to all sorts of information. A haven for dreamers.

Without libraries, we are lost.

Erin Valentino lives in Coventry, Connecticut. She works in Hartford.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.