As gateways to knowledge and culture, libraries play a fundamental role in society. Foundational in creating opportunities for learning, as well as supporting literacy and education, the resources and services each library offers all work towards helping to shape new ideas that are central to building a creative and innovative society.
Libraries also help ensure an authentic record of knowledge created and accumulated by past generations. If we were to exist in a world without libraries, it would be difficult to advance research and human knowledge, as well as preserve the world's cumulative knowledge and heritage for future generations.
Despite the rise of the online age, therefore, resulting in what we believe is the death of printed books and a growing lack of interest in libraries, there are still more libraries in the U.S. than there are Starbucks or McDonald's franchises. Public libraries have continually evolved throughout the years, serving as important community hubs to aid learning, professional development, and healthcare.
Even more so, in today's political climate, libraries have become centers for the movement that supports women, immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as those facing religious persecution. They stand as free public spaces that allow each individual to feel safe and to find a home away from home, where inclusivity is the standard. Now, more than ever, they are vital institutions that all members of the public should have access to, and here are several reasons why.
Libraries offer free educational resources
Libraries are synonymous with education, providing countless resources, namely books, internet access, printing facilities, and educational and professional training programs that can fuel economic, social, and cultural development. Libraries today not only provide their services face-to-face but since the light of the pandemic has also integrated e-learning to improve accessibility to the wider public. In addition to lending books and providing courses, libraries are also involved in copying materials for research or private study purposes. Not every student has the luxury of being able to afford every book or journal they require access to for their studies, therefore, they rely on the services of a library to sustain their academic consumption.
Libraries preserve history and cultural heritage
Recognizing the cultural importance of sharing, Mahatma Gandhi said that, "no culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive". The stimulus to share and reuse information and knowledge comes in many forms, and this is one of the most important functions of libraries. Libraries are rich repositories of significant historic and cultural collections, many of which are not available elsewhere in the world.
Libraries, which house centuries of learning, information, history, and truth, are important defenders in the fight against misinformation. Even though the past centuries have incurred many changes, as we have been subject to innovation, libraries continue to maintain their main purpose of providing visitors with the information they seek and are certain in providing only the truth.
Libraries help to boost local economies
As libraries are free for patrons, not many would consider the role they play in the economy, however, libraries do in fact play a key role in financially strengthening local communities. Libraries provide a workspace for telecommuters, supply free internet access for people looking for employment opportunities, as well as offer job and interview training for those in need without needing to spend enormous amounts of money on upskilling the workforce. The technology found in libraries today can be innovative, offering access to expensive tools, training, and skills that otherwise would not be available to everyone.
Libraries are safe and reliable spaces for all
One of the most valuable things libraries contribute to their communities is space. Whilst libraries are not substitutes for shelters, counseling centers, or long-term systematic solutions to homelessness, nevertheless, they are vital to public health and safety, offering support to those in need. Each morning when libraries open their doors, they essentially become shelters, learning centers, and employment centers for the most underserved population. In addition to serving patrons experiencing poverty and homelessness, libraries are simply safe and meaningful spaces for all members of the community.
Libraries help to build communities
Libraries not only serve the purpose of providing information but also serve as a social hub for individuals wishing to find themselves and their communities. Students meet up in libraries with their study groups for school projects, mothers join baby story-time clubs, the elderly attend events to inspire connection with others, and avid readers indulge in discussing their latest read with other like-minded individuals.
In addition, libraries serve as community centers for diverse populations by supporting non-English speakers to help them integrate into the community, hence, ensuring that the library's selection is filled with books in different languages, as well as the staff often being multilingual to serve this necessity. Whoever you are and however you identify, all these communities come together to learn, share, and celebrate where they live, who they are, and what they want to become.
Whether a library boasts grand architecture or modest design, the physical space of a library has a way of communicating our underlying values as a society, providing resources and services for literacy and education, and aiding individuals in expanding their communal network. Libraries truly stand as remarkable spaces, playing the necessary role in ensuring that we continue to build up creative and innovative individuals to partake in our ever-evolving society. Therefore, the public's need for libraries that serve as shared, community-centered spaces is unlikely going to change in the near future.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: Democratization of Design. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our ArchDaily topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.