The free-market economy is flagging, but public libraries are booming. As banks and lending institutions are being rescued and resuscitated by the federal government, and effectively making us, the taxpayers, shareholders in numerous deteriorating financial institutions (not to mention the auto industry and the sure to follow airline industry), many people are left alarmed and see this as the start of a capitalist freefall into the vortex of socialism. To those people, I would recommend going to the library.
As is evidenced by all the chin wagging and name calling that erupted at the tail end of the 2008 election season, people are still sufficiently alarmed by the specter of socialism. Pundits and everyday Joes sounded all sorts of Cassandra cries that we were walking backwards into a socialist state. But I assure you, if you want to find triumphant socialism at work in nearly every community in this great nation, you would be well advised to visit your local library.
This is a place where public tax dollars are being used to buy massive amounts of reference and research material to be accessed and loaned out for free. Walk into any library and you will no doubt see a dozen or so people accessing the Internet (for free), accessing reference materials (for free), and borrowing (also, for free) all kinds of books and media (CDs, DVDs, etc) amounting to what some might interpret as an undermining of the capitalist system and unabashed intellectual theft on a massive scale. Even satirist Stephen Colbert took a pot shot at the unsavory lending practices of our public library system, and how they threaten to erode the very fabric of our free market capitalist system.
In all seriousness, the long established public library system is a relatively untapped treasure, especially in these wintery economic times. Instead of accumulating titles in your Amazon shopping cart, you could be requesting books and media (including DVDs) directly from your library (in person or online), and if they don’t have it, they will, in most cases, locate it from another regional library. Libraries routinely offer all sorts of classes for children and adults alike, and reserve special multipurpose rooms for children’s storytime activities, visiting authors and speakers, and a myriad of special events. While some libraries have more comprehensive collections than others, nearly every library in the country has a sizable children’s literature section with all of the classics alongside current award winning books, books on CD, and age-appropriate DVDs.
I personally cannot say enough good things about the library system, and am an avid user and patron (currently with 25 titles out on loan). Beyond being a tremendous resource, it is a great lesson for children illustrating how publicly funded institutions in this country, can truly serve the people of the community.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.