If we were asked to give an “elevator pitch” about the importance of public libraries, we’d throw in a few comments about being a community hub, or how they dispense the world’s knowledge, and maybe bring up the crazy amount of digital resources they offer.
All that is true, but undoubtedly, the most important pitch would be that libraries are predominantly a great societal equalizer.
Public libraries exist in part because of a recognition in the mid-19th century that income inequality meant people were being denied access to books because they couldn’t afford them. There was a growing realization that tax-supported libraries would benefit a country economically and socially if all its citizens had equal access to literature and the chance to better their lives.
As it turns out, people who have access to knowledge, learning and education opportunities – regardless of their socio-economic standing in society – do improve their lives and that of their country.
Libraries are inclusive, providing books, offering computers and online access to those without either, providing literacy programming for all ages, and digital and physical resources, all without cost to the user.
They also offer equality in space – a space to study, read, listen or gather, regardless of who you are. No matter a person’s financial or social standing, libraries provide the same opportunities to all who come through their doors or access their resources online.
Today, public libraries offer even the poorest child the same opportunities as the most privileged. Newcomers will find the opportunity to upgrade their language skills and education, or find help navigating immigration processes and fine-tune job-hunting skills.
Teens and adults can explore online learning, technology, and access programming to improve their skills and education, regardless of financial resources.
Seniors can find help managing the ever-evolving digital world and the chance to expand their knowledge through reading.
Libraries continue to be the great equalizer, bringing people from disparate backgrounds together to learn, experience and connect.