Editorial: Libraries deserve our continued support, appreciation

  • A sketch of the Arms Library by Andrew Quient. Submitted photo/Arms Library

Friday, July 06, 2018

By 1919, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had funded 1,689 libraries in the United States. The Scottish immigrant, a self-made steel industry magnate and one of the richest men of his day, wanted to support the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.”

Today, our local libraries still hold an esteemed role in our communities. They continue to evolve, as do the ways we learn and communicate information. And it’s been encouraging to see in recent years that state and local taxpayers have continued the kind of support for lifelong learning and social improvement that Carnegie valued, whether at the tiny Heath library or in plans for a new $21 million library in Greenfield.

Yes, there are stacks of books of every kind. But today’s libraries are also stacked with magazines, online subscriptions and videos. You can get free passes to museums in the region or take part in a plethora of educational programs.

For the last two summers, the Tyler Memorial Library in Charlemont has piloted Tyler Tech, a summer program for elementary age children to participate in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities.

This summer, Tyler Tech will have new laptops and Kibo the robot, thanks to a grant from the Rural Technology Fund. KinderLabRobotics, Inc. created Kibo, which is designed to help children learn basic computer skills.

At the other end of the tech spectrum are other programs for young learners, like the “Kindness Rocks Project,” in Sunderland, part of a national movement to paint rocks with words of kindness. After the rocks are painted, they’re typically placed in a public place, like in a garden or in front of a school, to perk up someone’s day when read.

Athol Public Library, one of the area’s newest libraries, is loaded with technology but also understands the need for human interaction. So, while there’s Wi-Fi and video available, the library also hosts authors like Martha Ackmann, whose works have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and who wrote “Curveball,” about Toni Stone, a woman ballplayer in the Negro Leagues.

The libraries get steady taxpayer support over the years, but also are endowed by local fans like the late Robert M. Duda, an Air Force veteran of 32 years who sponsored several individual children’s education programs at the S. White Dickinson Memorial Library in Whately, where he was chair of the board of trustees.

When he died last year, he left $200,000 to the library.

Like Greenfield, Erving is planning a new library to bring it into the 21st century. It will be $4.9 million investment in the future of that town and its enterprising self-learners.

Greenfield plans to replace its current library, the colonial Leavitt–Hovey House built in 1797, with a larger, modern structure nearby, with rooms for books, modern media and in-person programing, showing us that while the tech may have changed, Google cannot answer all our needs in the way that our public libraries do.