Book Shelf

Columnist Parth Shiralkar believes everyone should appreciate public libraries because of the services they offer and the joys reading can bring.

Almost every alternate Sunday, I take the bus downtown to Main Street, get off at the Ames Public Library bus stop, spend an hour or two in the haven of words, loan out a couple of nice paperbacks and head back home. Even before I get into the crux of the matter, I want to state that public libraries are — unequivocally — the best.

As an international student, public libraries here are fascinating to me. Of course, we have no dearth of libraries in India, and to see all of that potential being used to its full capacity is thrilling. Not to mention how many libraries employ bookmobiles, which are even more fun when you have transportation troubles. Here’s an infographic that dives into America’s history of public libraries.

Modern public libraries are a haven not only for readers, but also for people from all walks of life who don’t necessarily identify as bookworms (or any book creatures for that matter). This, perhaps, is one of the more underrated benefits of a public library. Anyone can simply chill out at the library, have fun and make use of the wide array of facilities that go far beyond just the printed word. Our own friendly neighborhood library has services ranging from free Wi-Fi access to free computer access to printing at nominal charges. You can even hold meetings in the conference rooms there. Here’s a list of events that the Ames Public Library hosts.

And that’s not even the best part. Quite possibly my favorite part of the public library services is getting access to a whole catalog of e-books and audio books. I can be at home, down with a mild case of boredom, and I can log into my library account and get an e-book loaned out to my Kindle within minutes, for zero cost. And audio books are just phenomenal. Free ones? Even better. Seriously, try them out. Audio books are a hidden treasure.

With all of this in mind, it is important to note that we, as a collective civilization, have a communal responsibility to propagate institutions that will cultivate an educated public. Considering that they are an integral part of the social infrastructure, we must be more welcoming of public libraries as a place for all. And yet, public libraries are no longer in vogue. Libraries all over the country (and the world) are rethinking their fine policies, including the Cleveland and Phoenix public libraries, which have done away with fines altogether.

There are growing concerns regarding the dwindling magic of these libraries. Some people think that the hand-held idiot box is attempting to replace these institutions, that the millennials would rather be on their phones than on their way to the "Action & Adventure" shelf in the fiction section of the library. While these are valid concerns, as a millennial myself, I am proud to say that a recent study from the Pew Research Center says otherwise: millennials might be the strongest demographic of the library. For a college town, the amount of people my own age (early 20s) I see at the library is commensurate with the town’s demographic. Libraries may not harbor the crowds of, let’s say, a gaming convention, but they have their share of loyal fans. And, in any case, words are lit.

Even as I pick up my well-loved copy of Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett, I am reminded of how wonderful it is to be able to enjoy the small joys of life. Good stuff.

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