The week of April 7-13 is National Library Week. By celebrating its library, a community celebrates its collective capacity for imagination. I believe that deep imaginations are essential for personal enrichment, empathy and meaningful civic participation. Deep imaginations are vital for resiliency. And I believe that our rugged central Idaho landscape both inspires and demands such imaginations.
Here in Blaine County, we enjoy four lively and unique public libraries: Little Wood River Library in Carey, Bellevue Public Library, Hailey Public Library and The Community Library in Ketchum. The first three are funded by local tax dollars; the fourth, The Community Library, is funded by private donations and revenue from the Gold Mine Thrift and Consign stores.
Among all four libraries, every one of us in Blaine County has access to tens of thousands of books, in both print and digital downloadable formats; to computers and the internet; to educational programs, including story times that promote early-childhood literacy, tools for people seeking employment and lectures on a wide range of intellectual topics for adults; to safe and comfortable areas for thinking, reflecting and resting; and to trained librarians who can help answer questions in an often messy world of information.
And this access is free. Our libraries are places where we don’t have to buy anything to be there.
Perhaps above all, our libraries give us access to each other. They are places where we can see who our neighbors are, sit next to a stranger or have a conversation with someone of a different age or background. They are places where we share—the collection, the resources, the tables and chairs, our own ideas—and relinquish, a bit, the notion of possession, which can, I think, be liberating, and also necessary to community.
Not only do we save money and conserve resources by borrowing items rather than buying them (one very active patron who checked out more than 900 children’s books at The Community Library in a single year saved well over $10,000 by doing so), we also develop a collective experience of sharing. I imagine that this sharing develops invisible threads between us, strengthening the fabric of our community.
In that sense, libraries are not only markers of civic pride, but also humility. We recognize the needs of our fellow community members, and honor them by demonstrating a willingness to hold some things in common.
Libraries are among our most generous public spaces, accommodating all kinds of people throughout each day, and capable of adapting nimbly to dramatic changes in information formats and educational technologies. That matters intensely for us here in central Idaho, where we are 140 miles from the nearest university, in a state that has only a dozen higher education institutions to cover 83,642 square miles.
Every day, I see how the library lights the imaginations of a little boy opening a book, an elderly patron finding social interaction or a college student using the wi-fi and a study room to complete online coursework. And I wonder what would happen if every single person in the county had a library card and used it once a week. What new friends might we meet? What new ideas might we discover? Imagine what we could learn.
Community, after all, is something that is performed, not defined. We are a community by being one, together. And our libraries are where that can happen.
Jenny Emery-Davidson is the executive director of The Community Library in Ketchum.