By : Mike Achille
8 min read
I love being a librarian. Helping members of my community every day in one of the last social spaces free of corporate influence and capitalist dogma is a privilege, and one that I’m very grateful for. Libraries are so much more than just books, and since September was library card signup month we thought there was no better time to highlight some of the many different ways these important institutions support their communities.
Did you know that libraries often loan items other than books? Thanks to the “Library of Things” movement, most libraries loan digital cameras, musical instruments, digital projectors, video game systems, cooking equipment, toys for children, media conversion tools, and much more. The library “Makerspace” initiative recently saw the incorporation of creative spaces in libraries that include access to software like Adobe Photoshop, high-end podcasting equipment, and even things like 3D printers all open for free public use.
Providing services like ESL classes, diverse programming for all ages, assistance with applying for jobs or navigating the process of securing government assistance are also all on offer at your local library. The Boston Public Library holds regular citizenship classes to help improve English language skills and prepare individuals for the US citizenship test. They offer resources and services to help people start their own business and even provide free consultations with lawyers specializing in patent applications.
Libraries often preserve the historical record as well, maintaining large archival collections and actively digitizing local historical materials that tell the unique stories of our various communities. BAO will soon be donating a complete run of the Boston Compass from 2010 to the present for preservation at the BPL. Promoting and preserving both popular and countercultural content is a key part of a library’s responsibility. Look no further than the upcoming Watertown Zine Fest at the Watertown Free Public Library on Saturday 10/14 which will provide a zine market, zine making workshop, and lectures on the history and process of zine making. Libraries often have art galleries that showcase local artists, they provide free meeting spaces for community groups to gather and work, they provide a safe afterschool location for children to go, and provide streaming services for movies, books, music, and more through services like Kanopy, Hoopla, and Libby - all free with your library card.
I could go on and on, but it's worth noting that these are not services to take for granted. Libraries nationwide are under assault. Book bans are up over 20% in 2023 with nearly 2000 titles already being challenged this year alone. Many of these titles are by marginalized authors, BIPOC, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and seek to give voices to underrepresented individuals. These books help people feel seen, and yet they’re being forcibly removed or censored by groups who seek to repress collective identity and free expression.
The freedom to read, long a mantra of libraries and cultural institutions, is being challenged every day as cities and towns nationwide seek to cut funding for libraries or eliminate them altogether. In rural communities, which often bear the brunt of these attacks and setbacks, the library is often the only place that is welcoming to everyone. The only place that provides access to high speed internet. The only place where someone can explore who they are free of prejudice and judgment.
We find ourselves living in a post-truth world in which objective fact is questioned daily and people’s rights are under near constant assault. The library stands at the front lines of this clash of ideals. We should all join them in their quest to support their communities and stand up for justice and equality for all. So if you don’t have one already, go out and grab a library card. I think you’ll be amazed at the doors it will open.
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #162 October 2023
Check out all the art and columns of September's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass