Collections of written knowledge have been around for centuries. From ancient scrolls to the Great Library of Alexandria (a somewhat public library, if you were considered a scholar). I feel really lucky to live in Seattle as it has an amazing public library system. It has suffered from budget cuts (down significantly from its $50M operating budget in 2008) as many have recently, but it still remains an incredible resource that serves a huge and diverse population. As print media starts to level off and digital media continues to accelerate, public libraries continue to adapt and promote learning. They also provide access to information not everyone might be able to afford.
Yesterday, I took a little trip to Seattle Public Library’s main downtown branch. Besides being an incredible example of mind boggling engineering and architecture (by Rem Koolhaus), there is an incredible wealth of archival material, art, periodicals, and of course, books. The library seems to have responded to its diverse needs. It has an incredible children’s area, its electronic materials like cds and dvds (yes, you can cue up movies like netflix) continue to grow, their graphic novel section has never been larger, and they have a great English as a second language department. While private and college libraries in this country pre-date the first public libraries in the late 1800s, public access has always been a fundamental part of their missions. With today’s high tech necessities, the library also provides access to resources like computers, the internet, printing, and so on. For those of us fortunate enough to have our own connections, we don’t have to leave our homes to get access to a wealth of databases of periodicals and journals, reference materials (like the OED), children’s databases, etc. For materials I use for my classroom yearly, but don’t have room to store, the SPL is truly a remarkable jewel (the main branch is kind of shaped like one too).
I am grateful that my school has an incredible collection, and that the heart of our new campus building will be the library. I still think every child should also have a public library card, and we should be smart and efficient about how we use and share our resources. Over the years, I have also built up a nice-sized classroom library, and hope that people other than just my second graders feel welcome to borrow materials.
If you haven’t taken a tour of the main branch of the Seattle Public Library, I highly recommend it. I could go on an on about the library, but you can learn a lot just by visiting their website.