If you are involved in the public sector and participate in the winter/spring budget season then you feel as though you have come through a storm that takes a long time to pass. The fact is that we are all involved because people pay taxes using their hard earned income and leaders make decisions to support public endeavors like PPL. In return, the Library commits itself to a full effort every day to make Portland a better place by opening the doors – for every resident regardless of age – to lifelong learning in so many ways. But even if the Library is successful, leadership from the City needs to possess a basic value system that sees the work of the Library as an essential part of a great City. There have to be leaders who see broadly the landscape of education and can see down the road.
Recently the Mayor of Miami, Carlos Gimenez, stated “the age of the library is probably ending” as a justification for closing 22 branches of the library system. The comment prompted a blog postingby Thea Montanez, President of the Hartford Public Library, that gets to the heart of the matter. We at PPL do not take the financial support of our community for granted. Over the past five years there have been significant challenges to urban library systems such as Portland’s. The leadership of this City, despite the financial stress experienced by all of us, has believed in this Library and its unlimited potential to change lives and to be a major partner in building a great City.
We are thankful for the great and farsighted leadership in this City that holds the values and vision to see the exact opposite of Mayor Gimenez’s world view.
I spent last Friday in Augusta at the Maine Humanities Summit sponsored by the University of Maine Humanities Initiative. I also participated on a panel of academic and public librarians to explain the role of libraries in the “public” humanities. The attending group was made up of the converted, those of us who see in others and experience in ourselves every day the “Power & Pleasure of Ideas” – to borrow a phrase from the Maine Humanities Council. We spoke of public libraries being a provider, presenter, collector, promoter and organizer of the humanities. So it was on fertile ground (and with gratitude) that our individual presentations were received. There was little if any surprise just appreciation.
I am always fascinated by the surprise that folks have upon rediscovery of the public library or coming up against the popular notion that the public library is not long for the world. Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times blog post “In Praise of Public Libraries (Personal and Trivial)” speaks to the simple delight in finding a space in the community that has some infrastructure, a culture of sharing and no expectation of you except civil behavior. Meanwhile, beyond offering a sweet spot in the daily grind, public libraries everywhere are gearing up their summer reading programs and reaching out to kids and families to do what we can to bring the beauty of the arts and the humanities (literature, history, art, music and much more) to the neighborhoods and towns across the country. Quiet magic – day in and day out. No chest pounding, no vapid self-promotion, just quiet and sustained effort to experience the “Power and Pleasure of Ideas”.
The variety and range of libraries and the issues that are part of their daily and strategic concerns are not always obvious to the general public. There is not a shortage of coverage of specific issues facing libraries such as e-books, funding, etc. and occasionally there is a more general survey about the future of libraries or how they are evolving. For national audiences, the May 14th Wall Street Journal article,“The Library’s Future Is Not an Open Book” does a fine job giving a sense of the challenges and rationale that urban libraries face nationwide and how it is being addressed through planning and architecture. One will see echoes and demonstrations of PPL in that piece.
For Mainers seeking to understand our statewide library landscape the newest issue of the Maine Policy Review offers a wonderful blend of comment on the history, philosophy, service and strategic challenges associated with Maine’s libraries.