This summer, Gary seemed to have a plan to refurbish and reopen their long-shuttered main library branch. Such a plan, however, would have come at the cost of the closure of two of the Gary Public Library’s other branches.
Now, of all the issues at large and in Northwest Indiana specifically, libraries might not even be on most peoples’ radar. But while it might be far from peoples’ minds, this recent turn of events is a fitting time to discuss the much-overlooked importance of libraries. The fact is, in this day and age, they’re more than simply a place to borrow books, or DVDs now that most video rental places are gone.
Think of all the things you do on the Internet nowadays: bills, taxes, shopping, communication, work and research. The entire argument for net neutrality in the last year or two was centered on the fact that the web is an essential tool of life. So it might shock you that a U.S. Census report from 2013 revealed that more than a quarter of U.S. households lack any Internet connection. For that segment of the population, the library is vital as one of only a few ways to stay connected to the online world of today.
The programs put on by libraries also fill many needs, in addition to the staples of story time and other children’s activities and features on arts and culture for adults. Programs aimed at adults like job-searching or resume writing can be valuable for patrons without Internet access or the funds to find such help elsewhere. Same goes for educational sessions for students of all ages. The library also makes a good meeting spot for outside organizations.
Gary’s plan to refurbish the main library was tabled, and the two branches will remain open for now. I’d say it’s the slightly better of the two outcomes, because two locations stay open instead of being sacrificed for one. But it’s unfortunate Gary is in the position where it must choose which library branches it must close or keep open. A strong library is an asset for any community, but especially for resource-starved ones like Gary.