Since their origins in the mid-1600s, libraries have become much more than repositories and shelved-rooms from which to borrow books. Given the technological advancements and societal shifts of the last several decades, libraries have experienced rapid change, expansion, and advancement themselves, evolving into rich centers of culture, community, and knowledge available to all. So, why are libraries important institutions in our communities, and what resources and opportunities do our Middle Tennessee libraries now offer?
Many historical arguments support the idea of free public libraries. Perhaps the most renowned supporter of this idea was philanthropist and civic leader Andrew Carnegie, who funded the building of nearly 1,700 libraries in the United States alone, including four of Nashville's own public libraries. His charitable trusts continue to benefit and fund the creation of public libraries across the world today. He is famously quoted as proclaiming,
"There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration."
This cornerstone ideal is supported by public library advocates even today, who have dubbed the public library, 'America's great equalizer' (http://www.ilovelibraries.org/getinformed).
Not only do libraries offer democratized information and knowledge resources, they also provide benefits to members of communities just by offering a centralized and open space in which to meet, engage, and find a sense of identity and importance. A 2008 study of the contributions of public libraries found that the role of the library as a community gathering place is a critical one; whether hosting concerts, classes, book clubs and other social groups, or simply providing a forum where people can sit, talk, and read, libraries stand alone in many communities as a unique and all-inclusive gathering place (The Economic Contribution of Wisconsin Public Libraries to the Economy of Wisconsin, 2008).
Middle Tennessee's libraries offer a great number of these community gatherings, cultural events, and educational resources. Everything from tax assistance to computer courses to dance classes to children's educational programming can be found at our local libraries. Our libraries also remain an important source of Middle Tennessee history. The Nashville Public Library's special collections include photographs, postcards, maps, oral histories, and public archives that are integral to the preservation of our state's historic and cultural heritage. A Civil Rights Oral History Project, Veterans History Project, and a 2010 Nashville Flood Digital History Project are only a few of the unique collections housed at the Nashville Public Library (http://www.library.nashville.org/).
In a state in which 1 in 8 adults cannot read (Tennessee Literacy Coalition), and the reading proficiency rate for third graders is under 50% (wbir.com), the educational importance of libraries cannot be understated. The critical need for programs that will increase literacy has long been acknowledged by the federal government, which financially supports efforts to address literacy rates, including many programs at public libraries. Libraries and other information centers remain an important component of this massive national educational effort (libraryinstruction.com).
Our libraries are also important alternative gathering places for young people during the after-school hours. The hours between when school ends and when parents arrive home can sometimes be the longest part of the day for youth—time that kids are frequently unattended and are most likely to engage in at-risk activities including substance abuse, sexual activity, and crime. Those same hours—from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.—also happen to be peak hours at libraries. After-school activities at Middle Tennessee public libraries are intended to keep kids occupied, to address these at-risk behaviors, and to reinforce positive behavior and social interactions.
There are 292 libraries in the state of Tennessee and, according to the Tennessee Library Association, 51% of TN citizens (3,274,836) are registered borrowers at public libraries (tn.gov). Of 292 public libraries, 92 are found in the 40 Middle Tennessee counties. The opportunity for enrichment abounds in our Middle Tennessee libraries, with offerings such as group readings, art shows, open-forum discussions, after-school and summer education and enrichment programs, adult literacy and continuing education programs, book signings, concert series, puppet theatre, internet and technology resources, family events, and much more. Needless to say, libraries in Tennessee are vibrant and meaningful resources for Tennessee residents.
- Help promote National Library Week by updating your Facebook cover photo with this artwork from AtYourLibrary.org: http://atyourlibrary.org/national-library-week-facebook-cover-art
- For more information and fun facts about Tennessee Libraries and their resources during this National Library Week, follow the Tennessee Library Association on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TNLA
- Find out about ways to support your local public library on the Tennessee Library Association's website: http://www.tnla.org/.
- Find library organizations profiled in GivingMatters.com! Discover these resources through the Learn tab on our home page. Make a donation to an organization through their GivingMatters.com profile, or contact the organization directly to find out about other ways to support them.
- Become a 'Friend' of your local public library. Most libraries are funded through private philanthropic contributions as well as government funding. Contributions from 'Friends' are imperative to libraries' success. Ask your local librarian if there is a Friends of the Library organization you might support through volunteering or monetary contributions.
TN Library Statistics
National Center for Educational Statistics, Public Library Search Tool
Tennessee Library Association website
Tennessee Public Libraries website
At Your Library (Library Week Public Events)
Nashville Public Library