Once upon a time, a trip to the library was almost a sacred affair: the hushed voices, the endless stacks, solemn librarians as gatekeepers of knowledge. But a trip to one of our public libraries today is likely to show bright open spaces filled with librarians circulating among patrons, banks of computers, children building robots and the ability to check out everything from music to cake pans to telescopes to a real live person.
“It’s a library of things,” says Ava Ehde, Manatee County Library Systems services manager.
These expanded collections and services are a part of libraries’ mission to serve as a resource of knowledge for all community members, with an emphasis on all. In pre-Revolutionary War America, libraries were private affairs that required a paid subscription. Only literate, privileged men could afford to join. When the idea of free public libraries—places open to everyone in the community—took hold, libraries became an important facet of democracy, a role that libraries still fulfill.
“Public libraries have become the people’s university, a lifelong learning center,” says Ehde. “We are not the same quiet hallowed place of learning. Learning is active.”