I recently had the privilege of attending the Alaska Library Association (AkLA) conference. Every time I walk into a room of librarians, I feel at home. I’m with my tribe—people who love books and the written word. But what I was most struck by last week was how much libraries do for their communities, with and without books.
Author Jewell Parker Rhodes set the tone in her kickoff speech, sharing her story of how books enriched her life. She’s been able to pass that on in her own writing, especially in her Louisiana Trilogy of middle grade novels. Many of us bought her books later, and other great titles we learned of during the conference. That was one of the highlights for me, seeing how much we all love books and want to share them with others.
Of course, librarians spend much of their time and job duties sharing books with people. But that’s not all they do, nowadays. I learned about several different programs that provide ebooks, music, and movies to library patrons. Public libraries are one of the few public places where people have computer access, important for applying for jobs, schools, and other opportunities. Libraries also host maker spaces and speakers who provide information about job skills, entrepreneurship, early child development, online research, self publishing—you name it, there’s probably a library near you that has offered it.
Each library provides programs and assistance tailored to their community. For example, they might have patrons who experience homelessness or need to learn English as a Second Language or who are bridging the gap between school and work. One segment of the population I have an interest in, teenagers, often have teen library programs catering to their interests and needs. One reason I attended was to pick up ideas for our local teen services, and I came away with lots of awesome examples we can try in the future.
The information age has fostered an evolution in libraries. As speaker Sari Feldman pointed out in her presentation, libraries have moved from helping people find answers to helping them craft the questions. Librarians are on the front line of the digital world, and they help patrons understand the flood of information and opinions out there, and how to tell the difference between the two. Even if they did nothing else, this would be a huge service to our country. As it is, digital literacy is one of many things libraries teach us.
THANK YOU to libraries and librarians everywhere. And an extra thank you for the ones I spent time with at the AkLA conference. Librarians are special people, and definitely members of the #FellowshipofWords!