“Who owns this library?”
The question, from a teenage boy, is asked in a serious tone. I stop and consider his meaning. I know he’s not asking me who actually owns the metal structure our library is housed in. His question, I think, is a little more complicated. The answer, though, is simple.
“You do,” I tell him. “You and your friends. The library belongs to the community.”
For a few minutes, I think he’s forgotten about me. He fiddles with some gadget – an MP3 player or a cell phone. It’s game night and this boy and his friends have stopped in the library to play RockBand on the Wii.
“So when are you having Karaoke again?” he finally asks without looking up from the device in his hand. Slowly, it dawns on me that this is his indirect way of asking for a library program, of exercising ownership of his community library.
I promise him we’ll hold Karaoke again soon and make a mental note to put the event on the library’s schedule.
This notion of ownership stems from the basic role of public-funded libraries, which are charged with providing services and programs that meet the unique needs of the community. As owners of the library, community members have certain rights and responsibilities.
People who use the library recognize their right to services such as interlibrary loan and collection development. They ask staff to consider buying certain books, DVDs or magazines. They suggest programs such as computer workshops or author visits. They use the library often and understand that their input is needed to guide services.
For those who don’t use the library – some haven’t set foot in a library since high school – there is limited understanding of library ownership. Many don’t even know that they’re welcome to use nearly all library services and attend all programs regardless of library membership. Membership is only needed to borrow books, movies and audio-visual materials.
That’s it. No membership is needed to use the public-access computers or the Internet. Use of meeting or study space to read, write or socialize is open to the public. Each of the four public libraries in the county provides current newspapers and magazines for public use. And, all are open to suggestions from even the most infrequent library user.
With these many privileges come a few responsibilities. Chief among these is the responsibility to help out when it is possible. Again, some folks get this. They volunteer by teaching a workshop or leading a book discussion group. They participate as trustees, Friends group members or routine volunteers. They bring solutions to community problems.
And some people just bring problems – in the form of requests or complaints. But that’s OK. When you own something, you’re entitled to make requests…and offer a few complaints.