If staff at Airdrie Public Library were asked to give an “elevator pitch” for the importance of public libraries, we’d throw in comments about being a community hub, or a place where the World’s knowledge is at your fingertips, or maybe a plug for the growing number of digital resources they offer.
All that is true, but undoubtedly the most important pitch would be that libraries predominantly level the playing field for all people.
Public libraries exist in part because of a recognition in the mid-19th century that income inequality meant that people were being denied access to books because they couldn’t afford to purchase them.
There was a growing realization that taxpayer supported public libraries would benefit a country economically and socially if all its citizens had equal access to literature and the chance to better their lives.
As it turns out, people who don’t face barriers to learning and education do improve their lives and consequently that of the countries they live in.
Libraries create a barrier-free space by providing access to books, computers, WiFi, all-ages literacy programs, and digital and physical resources, all without cost to the user.
They also provide safe spaces to study, to read, to listen, to gather, regardless of a person’s socio-economic standing, religion, age, gender, or sexual orientation.
Libraries are also affirming spaces, where human diversity is celebrated, and the history and the peoples of the lands they are built on is acknowledged and respected.
Through public libraries, newcomers find opportunities to upgrade language and education, parents and children connect over the joy of learning, teens and adults can access programming to improve their skills and education, and seniors on limited incomes have access to all the books and resources they need.
Libraries are many things to many people, but what they do best is level the playing field for everyone.