I’d grab a bunch of books and bring them home, often staying up late reading them with a flashlight in bed under the covers. I’d knock ’em all out, then go back the next day for more.
Those experiences at the library are some of my favorite childhood memories.
As I moved on to college, the library remained a special place for me. I’d often find a couch or cozy chair in a quiet corner, oscillating between study and sleep.
Sometimes I’d get lost in a section, searching for one book that led me down a rabbit hole to reams and reams of previously undiscovered knowledge. It never felt like wasted time (or procrastination!).
I also spent a couple college summers working in a homeless shelter. We didn’t allow the men to hang out at the house during the day, so where did they go?
You guessed it: the library.
Since I was an undergrad in the mid-90’s, the Internet had really just begun to become influential at our institution, so we weren’t spending massive amounts of time surfing the Web. Computers were limited and connections were awfully slow (and noisy).
As an adult, I haven’t been spending as much time at the library, but my newborn baby boy is making me think about it again. I’d like to instill in him a love for learning and for places like the library.
At the same time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “So what?” behind what we’re calling “Gov 2.0” or “Open Government.” We can plaster the Web with public information, open datasets and crowd-sourcing tools. Blogs and wikis and webinars offer more access to more people.
But what if they don’t have a way of connecting to the Web? What if they don’t work in a job where they’re sitting in front of a monitor all day and they don’t have the money to buy a PC and high-speed Internet at home? What if some people feel a bit intimidated by the Internet due to limited access and/or lack of knowledge about it?
According to the National Broadband Plan, 14 million people in the US do not have access to high speed broadband infrastructure. Only 40% of adults making less than $20,000 have broadband at home and rates of adoption are under 10% for our Tribal lands. The Plan states explicitly: “Hardware and software are too expensive for some. Others lack the skills to use broadband.”
So let me suggest that the library is the linchpin – the indispensable hub of access and education.
I am not the first or only person advocating for this idea. In fact, Justin Grimes inspired me at last year’s Open Government and Innovations Conference during an incredible lunch conversation and I’ve heard Sandra Fernandez of the Houston Public Library describe her institution as a primary point of access for citizens in her community.
What are your ideas or examples of libraries as the linchpins for connecting citizens to government information and engagement?
I’d love to get lost in a virtual library of ideas that we generate here.