“Libraries Lead” may not seem like the most inspired theme for National Library Week given that libraries have been beacons of local leadership in their communities for quite some time. However, embedded in this theme is a certain kind of topical urgency, an earnest reminder that libraries tether communities together despite being severely underfunded and oftentimes underappreciated. The American Library Association has responded to funding challenges, mounting a stalwart defense that illuminates the indispensable services libraries across the nation provide to communities of every state—and every Congressional district—in the country. In an article written for The Guardian in 2013, Neil Gaiman reminds us that it’s in libraries where the future is imagined and built: “Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.”
It’s no secret that libraries are essential pillars of any community, building up while binding together neighbors from disparate socio-economic backgrounds, improving the lives of adults who’ve realized they still have much to learn, and enhancing the curiosity of children who yearn to stretch their imaginations. In an age in which information is dominated and informed by internet access, an age in which one gets their foot inside the professional door by submitting job applications online, it’s important to remember that a majority of libraries provide their patrons with free access to computers and WiFi. Libraries are indispensable centers for the unemployed seeking work, and are thus unlikely bedrocks of a nation’s economic success. In addition to loaning out books and supplying internet access to their patrons, libraries also loan DVDs, CDs, and video games to individuals and families who may not have the extra money to purchase the items for themselves. There are even some libraries that lend household tools to their patrons so they can complete necessary improvements and repairs to their homes.
Thinking more locally, however, Michigan libraries have always sought to lead the way in information exchange. Michigan State University, for instance, is one of over 400 libraries participating in a program called the Michigan eLibrary (MeL), which provides Michigan residents with access to online full-text articles, full-text books, digital images, comics/graphic novels, audiobooks, DVDs, and CDs. All-in-all, the Michigan eLibrary has a catalog (MeLCat) of over 49 million requestable items that are available to Michigan residents. MeL libraries lend on average over 90,000 items a month to Michiganders. In 2016/17, Michigan State University itself has loaned a total of 34,167 items across the state of Michigan!
At MSU, we recognize that we have an obligation to enlighten and improve our citizens and communities with all of our available resources. Michigan State University is just one of a multitude of libraries doing its part to preserve and protect knowledge, to encourage literacy among all Michiganders, and to stimulate and enrich the imaginations of the youth and the elderly alike. MSU Libraries understands that growth is an impossibility if one lacks the resources to grow. Although libraries across the United States have been in danger of losing valuable federal funding and the resources that come with it, they are nevertheless sites that persist in creating and promoting the type of growth necessary for all people to succeed. Knowing this, we must ask ourselves the following question: “Who better to lead than libraries?” And since we already know the answer, please go to your local library. Explore its wonderful resources. Share what you discover with others. And, finally, celebrate intellectual freedom and equity of access to information during National Library Week and beyond.