Urban Libraries

a speech by Paulette Dickerson

Chair, Montgomery County Library Board

Imagine a million library users (not just here in Silver Spring, but anywhere). Most of them are happy to browse, check out books, go to storytimes, and come back next week. That's the way we usually think of them. Today, tomorrow, next week, maybe next year, but let's do what Albert Einstein used to call a "Gedanken" experiment --- a thought experiment.

Let's divide that group into pieces, and imagine them years hence. Out of that million, maybe three quarters of them find the book they're looking for today and go home pleased. That's good. Maybe a third of them check it out for another three weeks with telephone renewal and the rest come in person to drop off, browse, and pick up books again. That's good, too.

Maybe a hundred thousand of those who didn't check anything out came to browse the Internet or type a letter or ask a reference question or tag along with a friend. But hey, the library is a friendly place, and that's good too.

Maybe some of the others came to go to a meeting or to get out of the weather or to go to the bathroom. But that's all OK, because the library should be a community center. Libraries build communities.

Let's imagine that one hundred thousand of that million found just the right reference materials to finish that homework assignment and because of the librarians' knowledge, ten thousand of them got A's instead of B's. Libraries grow students.

Let's imagine that ten thousand library users found out crucial health information, that some of those people were able to better manage illness or injuries. Libraries improve longevity.

Let's imagine that ten thousand of the library users were looking for information about small business management, loans, contracting, technology, and that of the thousand businesses that they began, one hundred more succeeded because of that information. Libraries grow businesses.

Let's imagine that for ten thousand of those million users, the prospect of college or some other form of higher education opened up to them because of the opportunities for research and recreation that the library gave them as youngsters. Imagine that some of those people will make discoveries and build structures and manage businesses that would not have happened otherwise. Libraries build futures.

Let's imagine that one person among that million library users gets sparked by some element of math or science or technology and goes on to study it in high school, to major in the subject as an undergraduate, to move into advanced studies at a good school and on to postdoctoral studies that lead, in thirty or forty years from that first library visit, to a Nobel Prize. It's happened --- look at Richard Feynman. A few might drop out of high school altogether and still make it to a Nobel Prize --- like Linus Pauling. Let's make that two Nobel Prizes. Libraries build minds.

Look around you today. Look at this building, the Silver Spring Library. Look how crowded it is, even though there aren't that many of us here today and imagine a bigger building with better access to mass transit in the middle of a revitalized downtown with commerce, the arts, movies, music, and books.

It's a funny thing, people are not usually loyal to shopping centers or movie theaters or the latest hot clothing store but they are loyal to libraries. For good reason, a new urban library would be a cornerstone for a continuously vital downtown for years to come. Let's grow that library.

This speech was written by Paulette Dickerson and given by her at the Silver Spring Public Library, in Silver Spring, Maryland on 9 April 1999.

Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
Private Citizen / Library Advocate

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Send comments or suggestions to:
E-Mail: "pdickerson (at) hers.com"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

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