It turns out that libraries did not die out with princess telephones and bell bottoms. And we didn’t just survive, dusty vintage curiosities decorated in avocado green and burnt orange. Instead, we are thriving. And we are thriving because we have embraced change early instead of late. Technology, e-books, and online resources are as common today as pencil stubs, catalog drawers, and type-writers used to be. I have worked in libraries off and on for over 30 years and I know that some of them didn’t make it. There are libraries stuck in time, exactly as you remember them from your childhood. But most of Indiana’s libraries are proof-positive that libraries not only still have a pulse, but we are light on our feet and ready to dance.
Last Thursday night we celebrated. At our donor event, Booked for the Evening, we celebrated what public libraries can do for their communities, and what our community has done for us. It is one of my favorite nights of the year, because I love the chance to talk about this library. I love it almost as much as I love watching people come into our library for the first time and seeing the look on their faces when they find the last thing they expected: a vibrant community center. Who knew libraries had survived the internet?
Evan Wright is a self-possessed teen who grew up going to GPL and who is now a leader in our Teen Advisory Group. At 17, he has the poise and presence of someone much older. As he spoke at our event last Thursday, he told us about a time when he was 12 years old, and he found out the library was in financial trouble.
“Several years ago, we had to consider what life would be like without the library. I still remember how I felt when I learned that the library was having financial problems. It had never occurred to me that GPL, who had given so much to the community, needed the community’s support in return. So I made a decision. I decided to help the library to the best of my ability. I asked my family members to donate to GPL for my birthday, and I donated my savings. I couldn’t stand to think that no one else would be able to grow up with GPL the way I have.”
I was and am amazed at the children and teens in our library and how well they understand the connectedness of it all. Evan was not the only child who gave of his own money to help his library five years ago. Today those children are growing up with an understanding that they can make a difference, too. Because of them, because of you, GPL is still here to give children and adults what they need to succeed.
It is hard to find a place in today’s society where one is not merely a consumer to be marketed to. But here at the public library we truly serve everyone, regardless of their economic, social, or political status. In a sense we are Sweden. Without hidden agendas we can provide public space for civil discourse, resources, and access to materials needed for personal growth and decision making.
As we do this work we ask for your help. And you have given it – your time, your talents, and your investment. I hope you know that your investment is paying off. The dividends are clear for all to see. I want to share with you a letter I received from Chris, mom to one of our families who have been very involved at the library – they wanted to let you know that your investment has made a difference for them.
“From our very ﬁrst visit, they (the staff) made us feel welcome. They have offered encouragement, given hugs, taught, laughed, conspired, and made us feel at home. Due to job changes, my husband took a position in Chicago. GPL is one of the reasons that we decided, as a family, to have Matt live ‘up north’ while we stayed here for an extra year. An extra year of classes, movies, volunteering, coaching, teaching, games, snacks, crafts, and love. We miss being together but have not once regretted our decision. The staff here at GPL shows us with every single visit that they are here to help and guide anyone willing to step through the doors and ask.
Then, there is the love. It’s not hard to enter GPL and see and feel the love. Love of books. Love of research. Love of order. Love of community. Love for each other. Love. They love this library and it is absolutely impossible not to love them and it right back.
My thanks to the board and donors (past present and future) that have also worked hard to make this library the wonderful place that it is for all who walk through the doors. If you ever wonder if GPL is “doing right” by your donations of time or money, open the doors. Walk in. Look around. When a steady stream of teenagers walk through the doors to hang out in a grand room set aside just for them, know GPL is “doing right.” When a parent asks at the children’s desk how many books they can check out at once and a small child squeals with glee at number, know that GPL is “doing right.” When a kid borrows the letter carrier outﬁt and mailbox and plays with new friends for an hour, know that not only is GPL “doing right” by your donations, but they do it happily, knowing that you have their backs and will step up and help them continue to do it each and every day.”
If you have invested in us, I join with Chris and Evan in thanking you. If you are interested in finding out how you can invest with GPL, please contact me or Jane Weisenbach via email or a phone call. Or, better yet, come in and chat. My door is always open.