by Katy Munger, 2016 Piedmont Laureate

Part 2 in a series of blog posts adapted from a talk I gave at the Cameron Village Library in April of 2016.

Today’s library has become, quite literally, the only great equalizer in our society. It is a place where economic status, race, gender and citizenship are irrelevant, a place where everyone is welcome and can get equal access to knowledge that can help them better their lives and the lives of their children.

In a world where people bunker down and socialize and shop only with people exactly like themselves, in many communities, libraries have also become the only place where we run into people different from us, the only place where we have a chance to see and hear other voices.

In many ways, what libraries give communities today is the living embodiment of what you will find on the shelves of these libraries: respect for all voices, an acknowledgement that we all have something to say, and a reminder that we are better as a species when we listen to and learn from one another.

In the future, libraries will be only be called on to play this vital role even more. They are the connectors of our towns and cities and communities. They are the third place that Ray Oldenburg wrote about in 1989 as so vital to our survival as a society: a neutral place in between work and home that is:

  • Free or inexpensive
  • Highly accessible
  • Welcoming and comfortable
  • A place where both old and new friends can be found

How then can we protect them? It’s simple. We must be like the NRA: no compromise. Ever.

No compromise in the level of funding our libraries receive.

No compromise when it comes to proposals to shut down library access in neighborhoods.

No compromise when reactionary nitwits who are afraid of knowledge turn on libraries and try to destroy them because they fear them.

Fight back if this happens. Be like the people of Kansas, who paid attention when their state lawmakers tried to shut down over 100 libraries. Within a week, the people of Kansas had risen up as one and forced their state lawmakers to drop their attack on public libraries. We must be prepared to do the same, if necessary.

Remember: the library is the vanguard of civilization, a temple of knowledge that connects us to the past and the future — but most of all, to each other.