For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 10, 2008 - What Do We Need?
Libraries- Necessity or Luxury?
by Sharon Nemechek, Manager, Lone Tree Library
[I was having a conversation with the manager of our Lone Tree Library recently. The topic was "what do people need?" This literate and engaging essay is Sharon's eloquent answer. - Jamie LaRue]
Can you identify the necessities in your life? Stop and think….are you able to distinguish the necessities from the conveniences and the luxuries? Most of us would agree that our basic needs include air, food, water and shelter. But, what about books?
In "Man’s Search for Meaning," Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned in four different concentration camps during WWII, observed that it was not necessarily the strong, fit laborers who survived the starvation, torture and hard physical labor in the camps, but those prisoners who had travelled and read books. For the few hours they were idle they escaped the daily horrors of the camp and in their minds visited the places they had seen in life or in literature. That mental escape was essential to their survival.
As a librarian I find this fascinating. I know that books help us understand our universe, but is it possible that they satisfy some basic human need, that without them we might not survive? And if so, what does that say about the place of the library in our lives?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow and economist Manfred Max-Neef each worked to define a system of human needs. While Maslow believed that needs are hierarchical, Max-Neef proposed that human needs are constant across cultures and time periods and that true needs are few. Both agree that basic physical needs include air, food, water, shelter, and protection from danger. What I find interesting, though, is they both suggest that we also have some basic emotional needs that must be satisfied, including the need for affection/intimacy, a sense of belonging, respect, understanding, recreation, creation, identity and freedom.
Is it possible that these basic emotional needs that Frankl, Maslow and Max-Neef observed can be satisfied with a visit to your local library? Well, let’s take a look…..
Affection/intimacy. Although this one has been attempted at the library, I wouldn’t recommend it. But, you can find resources on how to be a better partner or parent. And, some libraries have singles nights.
A sense of belonging. The library has been described as a "third place," a place in addition to your home and workplace that's integrated into your daily life. In one study libraries equaled Starbucks and grocery stores for number of repeat visits by patrons per week. In Douglas County 80% of households have at least one library card. The library has truly become our community "living room."
Respect. Library staff respect the reading preferences, interests and information needs of all patrons. This is one of the guiding principles of our profession.
Recreation. Reading or listening to a good book is not only great entertainment, but it often provides a much needed escape. During my divorce, a stressful and emotional time, I devoured all the "escapist" fare I could find. Immersed in a fast-paced story I found respite from my almost constant worries.
Understanding, Identity. We gain a deeper understanding of ourselves not only from Wayne Dyer and Dr. Phil, but also through the beautifully told stories of Willa Cather, Ha Jin, Wallace Stegner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Cormac McCarthy and many, many others.
Creation. Do you want to start a small business, build a robot out of Legos, plant an herb garden or turn some beads and wire into a bracelet? The library has books, DVDs and classes to show you how to do all this and more. Recently my son checked out a DVD on how to build a quarter pipe. Now he's inspired to turn our garage into a mini skate park.
Freedom. What greater freedom is there than access to any book you’ll ever want to read? What greater freedom than the journey into a great story?
Is the library necessary for survival? After air, after food, after shelter. Absolutely.