Chicken Soup for the American Soul

I’ve spent all week searching through our collections for a topic to blog about. With July 4th fast approaching, I considered writing about citizenship and the history of immigration in Delaware. I also looked at our materials dealing with public health to tie into the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Everything seemed so timely and interesting that I couldn’t focus in on one thing.

Then, yesterday, I read “Why Libraries Are a Smart Investment for the Country’s Future” in Time Magazine, and decided to take on a loftier subject in this space. The article acknowledges the major challenges libraries face today: budget cuts, staff layoffs, and the need to extend digital services. But it also defends the fundamental purpose of all libraries—promoting a more informed citizenry by providing access to educational resources and cultural capital. “We should emphasize that libraries are not frills. They are not luxuries, but a sacred component of American education and American democracy,” adds CUNY history professor David Nasaw.

Even as early as 1862, libraries in Delaware were concerned with advancing this message. In his annual report that year, William S. Hilles, president of the Wilmington Institute, reiterated the library’s mission to “encourage a taste for reading and mental culture in a community, probably more universally and more closely occupied with industrial pursuits than any other on the continent.” Today, Delaware boasts almost fifty public, academic, and school libraries all across the state.

As political and social life become ever more complex, we depend on libraries and historical repositories to make sense of it all. In preserving the things of the past, they put the situations of the present into perspective. When the events of the current day seem overwhelming and unprecedented, there is comfort in knowing that as a state and as a nation, we’ve been through similar, and perhaps even far worse, events before. And once we recognize these patterns, we’re better equipped to deal with them in the future.

Here’s the beauty of all of this—our libraries and repositories are open and accessible to ALL of us. Anyone and everyone who cares about better understanding the world around them, the people in it, and the systems that make it function.

Finally, I’d like to ask you a favor: Use and support your libraries and historical institutions. It’s not only good for you, it’s good for our community!

What do you think? What role do libraries play in your life? We’d love to hear about your experiences!

~Heather


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