The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Editorial: Library provides quiet center of learning in world of information overload


September 27, 2017

Sweet Home’s library celebrated its 75th anniversary last week, which makes it one of the oldest institutions in our community.

Other than a few churches and the city itself, there’s not a lot here dating back that far.

Which should tell us something as we contemplate an age in which many of us have the Internet literally at our fingertips – all the time. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Our library’s importance to our community might not be immediately obvious – until we start to think about the importance of being informed and how we can get that way.

What does our library do for us?

Our library is a place where we can find out how to build a log cabin, how to play the ukelele, learn all about Timbuktu. There we can search for a job or apply – online – for one. If we don’t have a computer or we don’t know how to use one, we can there.

It’s a place in our community where we can be exposed to new things that we might not otherwise experience, where we can grow and develop ourselves, where we can interact on a civic or cultural level.

It’s a quiet place, a place of rest from the informational overload of smart phones, video games and a society seemingly constantly on the run. It’s a place to think, to express ourselves, to engage intellectually with the world around us.

The library provides educational opportunity for all – with emphasis on that last word.

It is a place where both children and adults can become literate, productive citizens. It shouldn’t take long for most of us to recognize, after exiting high school or college, that learning doesn’t stop when we’re handed our diploma. Life is complicated and there are always new challenges. The library is a rich resource for meeting those.

In Sweet Home, the library is available to just about any citizen, regardless of economic status, age, living accommodations, gender, political or religious affiliation, or any other distinguishing characteristics. It’s public. Library cards are free or incredibly cheap, depending on where we live.

The library levels the playing field in education.

As one writer put it, “the public library is the truest democratic space.”

Not only are there nearly 40,000 books and publications available in Sweet Home, waiting to be perused by those with inquiring minds, but the Linn Library Consortium has opened up the resources of the county’s other libraries to local residents.

On more than one occasion we have spoken on this page about the value of going beyond the three R’s in educating our local youths. Multiple studies have demonstrated that instruction in art, music, physical skills and other hands-on applications enrich students’ educational experience to the point that they perform better in the “core” subjects. In the same way, what is contained within the walls of the library enrich the community.

Yes, when many of us want to know something, our first impulse is to type some keywords into Google or some other search engine to plumb the wisdom of the internet.

But as any doctor, lawyer, business executive, minister or government official – or journalist can attest, research often requires more than what is available on that first self-serving web page that pops up or in a document someone has scanned and posted on the World Wide Web.

Nearly everything on the Internet should be suspect because much of the content out there is posted by people seeking to publicize their particular spin. Certainly, the books and other resources available in the local library often espouse particular positions, but there are usually more than one of them, reflecting broader views. And what makes the library key to the process of learning is that professional librarians are trained to do high-level research and they are equipped to help people such as those listed above find the knowledge relevant to decisions they must make or actions they must take.

How many times have we uttered the phrase, “Call the library!” when we need to know something.

Just in searching the Internet alone, a professional librarian’s help can be critical in figuring out what sources are valid and what might not be.

In a democratic society like ours, ignorance is a death blow to freedom. We often make that point in maintaining the value of newspapers, but it’s just as true of libraries.

Ignorant citizens are more easily misled by leaders with self-serving (read: nefarious) motives and will find it difficult or impossible to contribute to the establishment of wise public policy. It’s no secret that too many Americans are way too ignorant and unappreciative of the sweet deal they have here in the United States of America.

The library’s contribution to the community goes way beyond that, though. As we’ve noted in news reports in the last few weeks regarding this anniversary and today on pages 1 and 6, the library offers programs for local kids to develop skills beyond just reading. It offers intellectually stimulating and entertaining summer activities to keep kids active and engaged during vacation from school.

Our library, founded 75 years ago by citizens who saw a need for this institution in Sweet Home, has endured budget cuts and a brief closure, generations of youngsters who’ve given the collection a good work-over, and plenty of other ups and downs over those decades. But it remains, and we should appreciate that and try to impress on others its importance in Sweet Home.

We close with statement from a the head librarian of San Francisco, who summarizes this very well: “Libraries represent what we should never take for granted: the freedom to read, the freedom to choose and the freedom to share our ideas.”


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