It takes a community
Last week, I attended my retirement party, not an easy thing on many levels, but it was a wonderful afternoon. I was deeply touched by the tributes, the many kind compliments and the intentional presence of so many people on such a lovely day. As I stood behind the podium totally unprepared (unbelievable!), one thing struck me quite forcefully: The Fox Room was filled with people who, through the years, have been moved to action in support of library services.
Gathered in one large room named for Nella Grimm Fox, a donor with long distance vision, were staff members, library trustees, Friends of the Library board members, volunteers, donors, former trustees, former Friends board members, former volunteers, former staff members, two former city officials, and readers of every stripe. This was a group of people who cared about the health and vitality of their library and who have turned that caring into action. Joining them were librarians from around the state who have chosen to use their time and energy for the same purpose.
Among this group, there is a tacit understanding that good, functioning libraries happen only when efforts and contributions, monetary and from volunteers, come from many directions. That certainly has been the case for the Rutland Free Library. In 1988, teams of volunteers packed up every book and stick of furniture for a six-month relocation while the addition was under construction.
The Friends group formed in those early years and continues to underwrite programs, handle book sales and provide the invaluable work of postering the region with program fliers. We have a (volunteer) volunteer coordinator and a steady stream of helping hands with filing, cleaning, shelf-reading, book repairing, tech support/teaching and more. Trustees sign on for much more than a meeting a month, as they are faced with building issues, budget requests, shaping public policy, and strategic planning.
Over and over during the years, I have seen this legion of library supporters say “yes” or “how can I help?” or “what do you need?” or “OK, I will serve as an officer” or “I know someone who can advise us on that.” This group has made physical and service expansions possible because they believe that a public library is important to the residents in the region and it cannot be taken for granted.
And why is a public library of value? At the core, way deeper than physical or digital books and way deeper than the stately building, the value comes with the concept of access. Access to the resources that contain the information or pleasure, access to communal space that breeds a sense of belonging, access to technical assistance for new technologies, access to the programs that challenge the minds of adults and children alike, access to the Internet which opens and closes doors for all of us in the 21st century.
Without a public library, it is hard to imagine where these enriching things would spring from but very easy to imagine that there would likely be price tags attached, further separating the haves and the have-nots. With such divisions, communities do not thrive and sometimes they do not survive.
Having a library may be the easy part; it takes a community to keep a library. Rutland has indeed been fortunate to have so many people care enough.
Paula Baker is the recently retired director of Rutland Free Library.