OPINION

Why libraries have always mattered

Lisa LaTouche

Libraries matter They have always mattered. Nothing is more deeply egalitarian, democratic, and enriching than a building filled with knowledge, open, with equal access to all who wish to learn. But now, in an age of rapid change, when information can be had quickly and easily with a swift internet search, libraries matter more. Why?

The internet age has brought us a bounty of entertainment and information but it has also left us with a sense that society has become increasingly fragmented and isolated. Even as the use of social networking sites has increased, we worry that we are losing a vital human connection to the place we live and the people that physically surround us. Libraries around the country have begun to address this need for engagement by becoming more than just a place filled with books and information. Libraries have become community hubs, providing cultural events, classes, and social networking for people who are looking for deeper connections within their community. Libraries are actively engaged in the art of enriching our lives.

The Stephenville Public Library is no different. We strive to provide programming for every person in our community. For adults, we offer free meditation, Yoga classes for a small fee and our quarterly Book Club. For small children, we have a weekly Story Time, for older children, we run a biweekly Pokemon Club and for young adults, we offer a biweekly Teen Cosplay Club. Throughout the year we offer a variety of movie events for the entire family, including our popular Movie Under the Stars nights where we project films onto the outside wall of the library. We run an extremely popular Summer Reading Series, providing educational and cultural opportunities for local children, such as visits with experts from Dinosaur Valley Park, the Fire Department, and Tarleton’s Horticulture Program.

Our programming is varied, extensive, and extremely well attended by the local community. This popularity is due in large part to the community’s hunger for knowledge and connection. When people come together to share interests, they build bridges and strengthen ties, which in turn invigorates and fortifies our community and enriches our lives.

An essential part of having a vital and educated community is ensuring that there is equal access for all to the information needed to succeed in our modern world. Undeniably, internet access has become a key to that success. Yet not everyone can afford that access. This is especially true in cities such as Stephenville where a full third of our population sits at or below the poverty line. The Stephenville Public Library provides free internet access to anyone who needs it, both through WIFI and through our computer lab. The library empowers patrons to fully realize all the internet has to offer: online banking, job applications, bill pay, shopping, access to the latest news and research, email, and connection through social networking sites. This critical access allows everyone in our community to fully participate in the world of knowledge which leads to richer, more fulfilled individuals.

In addition to programming and internet access, our library enriches our community by providing access to over 35,000 materials including books, large print books, books on CDs, magazines, cameras and over 4,500 DVDs available for check-out. We also offer Overdrive, a consortium of North Texas libraries that provides free downloads of ebooks, audiobooks, and publications. To make patrons lives easier, we offer renewals by phone, homebound deliveries, and access to a copier and fax machine.

The Stephenville Public Library is here to serve our community and enrich our lives. And, looking at the numbers, we are doing a great job of it. Last year, the library counted 45,000 patron visits, checked out over 47,000 items or resources, and had 22,237 patrons sign in to the computer lab. All of this is done on a budget that is half that of equal-sized towns in Texas, as shown in a recent study commissioned by the Stephenville City Council. The people of this city need our library because we fulfill the vital function of creating an egalitarian space of learning and connection. Our library matters and it always will.

So come check us out. Tell us what you need. Be a part of the heart of Stephenville. And tell the City Council that funding our services will only improve the lives of Stephenville citizens.

Lisa LaTouche is president of the Friends of the Stephenville Public Library.