With hard-copy, paper books becoming obsolete you’d think future libraries would be smaller and more compact since they won’t need all that space to hold those antiquated, assemblages of slaughtered bleached-out trees. In fact, with the advent of compact electronic books and an overall decline in reading, it would seem libraries would be fading away, following in the footsteps of the dinosaur or dodo. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, it appears quite the opposite is true, and up and down the valley our little libraries are getting bigger and bigger.
In Aspen, the Pitkin County Library is hoping to grow more than 20 percent by adding an additional 7,000 square feet to its existing structure. According to the institution’s website, some of the new space would be used to add an interactive learning center to the children’s library, study areas and tutoring space for teens; large and small meeting rooms for government, nonprofits and small businesses; an outdoor reading deck and an indoor/outdoor wireless hot spot. There also would be other upgrades and improvements made to entrances and exits and infrastructure, along with a reconfiguration of the book stacks. Unfortunately, despite what the new library would deliver, the plan is still lacking a couple of things when it comes to serving the community.
By definition, libraries are collections of books. The root of the word comes from the Latin noun “liber,” which was used by the Romans to describe the inner bark of trees on which the earliest manuscripts were written. From there, “liber” grew to describe paper, then books and eventually became the English word “library.”
However, despite its definition, libraries are becoming less and less about books and more and more about a location for free stuff and services, which is kind of ironic because if ever there was a place where words and their definitions mattered it would be a library. But that is not the case. What started as a place to get free books, newspapers and periodicals has blossomed into a place where you can get free access to the Internet, lectures, meeting rooms, heat, shelter, a phone and even a toilet. All over the country, libraries are providing more and more services to suit the specific needs of their communities. In the city of Seattle, local libraries have become a place where homeless folks are free to watch Internet porn.
But maybe the transformation from a building about books to a place for all kinds of free stuff isn’t so far removed from its Latin roots. After all, in Latin, as an adjective “liber” means free and is the root of words like “liberty” and “liberate,” and is the same as the root for “library.”
I’ve spent my entire life free loading in libraries. It started with books and it just keeps on expanding. I have probably written over 200 columns with some type of assistance from one of our local libraries, be it in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt or Aspen. As a lover of libraries I cannot complain about them expanding their open offerings to the community.
With that said, there are many more freebies the library could be providing to serve our community’s needs. Why stop at meeting rooms, reading decks or an outdoor hot spot? There’s still so much more out there that could be offered. Specifically, why not add a couple of showers and some beds? That’s what the new library plan lacks.
As a longtime proponent for a homeless shelter in Aspen, I think the new library could fill a void that the community has been lacking for far too long. For such a giving, philanthropic community like Aspen, it is almost inconceivable that it has no permanent, well-funded, full-time homeless shelter, especially considering the state-of-the-art homeless shelter it has for our four-legged friends.
And why stop there? The library also might be the proper place to add some type of employment office. During my many days spent in Aspen’s library, one of the most common things I’ve seen is people looking for work. Maybe a space for job seekers would be an appropriate addition to the new plans. There could be computers, a few more phones and maybe even a place for job postings.
Aspen considers itself a liberal leader in how societies should be managed, and wants to be a shining city on a hill that lights the way for the rest of the world. Having a homeless shelter as part of its library could be a model for the rest to follow and rather than being a follower by banning things, Aspen could lead by adding them.
The increasing role of libraries and free stuff in our society seems appropriate. Not only are books and freedom linked by the word “liber,” they also are linked because books are more than just collections of words on parchment; they are knowledge, information and power. Books and pamphlets are some of the most important tools of freedom, especially when it comes to religion, ideas and politics. It’s the reason so many despots engage in book burning. So, why shouldn’t libraries be offering more and more free stuff?
There are many great ideas and innovations that are being proposed as part of the new addition to the library, but until some beds and showers are added into the mix, the plan is still lacking.
Contact Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.