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Libraries Change Lives:
Celebrating National Library Week 2011

If ever there was a time when we needed to set aside a week to celebrate our nation’s libraries, National Library Week 2011 (April 10-16) is it. All across the nation libraries are being hit hard with budget cuts at the local, state and federal levels and the result has been loss of staff, reductions in book budgets and hours of operation and an alarming number of closings. This comes at the same time when the demand for library service has increased. If you have a library card from one of Vermont’s 183 public libraries, you join 350,000 other Vermont individuals and families who are able to borrow books and DVDs, gain access to online subscription content, download audio books, and read library e-books.

In FY2010 Vermont public libraries reported 3.7 million visits, and while the library “brand” is still the book, we saw the greatest increases in the use of library technology. Visitors logged on to public library computers over 18,000 times each week to connect with the Internet, including job-seekers, distance learners, global communicators and citizens needing access to e-government services. In the 21st century librarians are as apt to discuss search engines and broadband connectivity as we are to talk about Bill Bryson or Mark Twain. If you’ve visited a library lately you know that the role of our public libraries has greatly expanded over the past decade. Libraries are still the place where children are first introduced to books and reading and where parents learn the importance of reading aloud. They are still the place for readers to browse the stacks and discover new authors and whet their appetites for life-long learning. They are still the place where local residents attend cultural programs and engage in book discussions. And they are still the place where citizens are free to explore a wide diversity of ideas and viewpoints without anyone looking over their shoulders. But libraries are not standing still – nor are they being replaced by Google or Amazon. Changes in our local communities are reflected in the kinds of services that libraries now offer, and studies show that libraries are especially important for our friends and neighbors most directly affected by the economic downturn. [See: “Perceptions of Libraries 2010” www.oclc.org/reports/ ]

You may have heard the slogan that “libraries change lives.” I have worked in libraries long enough to have seen this happen over and over again and I believe that libraries have a role in helping our communities with some of our most pressing needs: early childhood literacy and readiness for school, assistance for new Americans who need language and computer training, reversing the high rate of youth entering our prison system, providing reliable health information for families and seniors, and helping the unemployed to find jobs and businesses to thrive.  

Our school and college libraries play a central role in the life of students and teachers, providing a wide range of services and instructional programs that foster reading, intellectual curiosity and the love of learning, scholarly pursuit, career exploration and job skills, and digital literacy. Community leaders should look to their local library and develop new and innovative ways to collaborate and provide services to citizens. At the state level, we are working to bring high-speed broadband to libraries and to develop statewide library services that reach every citizen. Governor Shumlin noted in his inaugural address that we need to “support creative approaches that may be outside the four walls of our classrooms” and “break down the silos into a seamless system that allows each individual learner to integrate the array of programs that inspire lifeling learning.” Vermont’s libraries play an important role in this dynamic approach to creating an educated and informed population.

I encourage all Vermonters to take time to visit their local library this week.  Get a library card, check out a book, explore the Vermont Online Library, or attend a program. This year the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Library Association, and the Vermont School Library Association have partnered on a marketing campaign to raise awareness of what our libraries offer. For more information about this campaign and to see photos of what’s happening in Vermont libraries, see: www.vermontlibraries.org/mylibrary

Martha Reid
State Librarian
Vermont Department of Libraries