“I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county, to consist of a few well-chosen books, to be lent to the people of the country under regulations as would secure their return in due time.”
–– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Wyche, 1809.
I certainly appreciate Thomas Jefferson’s vision of library and think it informs my own vision. I think of a place that contains materials for reading, viewing, listening, studying, referencing or borrowing and a place that is accessible to a defined community.
When I think of “defined community”, I think of the unique qualities that define Wallowa County –– our “secret sauce.” As a community, we share diverse characteristics but we pull together at times of need, in times of celebration, in times of support, in times to be social and in times to share common goals. Although we may approach situations from different perspectives, it almost feels like library and community are joined at the hip.
Public libraries are often overlooked by the relatively recent surge of eBooks, online periodicals, blogs, YouTube and all things your favorite search engine can procure for the inquiring mind.
However, public libraries can be vibrant and serve as multipurpose community gathering centers.
According to Forbes, more than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet to find work, apply to colleges, learn about health and wellness treatments and secure benefits.
Evidence indicates that when people can access a library and use a computer, they develop digital skills, connect with family and friends, educate themselves and participate in a variety of other activities that are important to lifespan development. Libraries seem to be at the heart of community.
Healing the heart and the mind is what we do at Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness. Literacy is critical in the evaluation and treatment of individuals with mental health issues.
Folks with a diagnosed mental health condition coupled with low literacy skills are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of low literacy and are challenged with the ability to function independently in society.
Low literacy is an added barrier to accessing and using mental health or healthcare services effectively. Assessing literacy skills is vital to receiving appropriate healthcare, and I envision partnering with the library to help collaborate these screenings.
In the words of Robert Putnam, “people may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.” New moms may connect during story time and elderly people facing difficult life transitions might attend events and make new social connections.
Libraries are at the hub of community. Most librarians recognize what the pressing local needs are and have good ideas of how to address them. Libraries can be community builders for diverse populations; they can be arts centers and champions of youth.
Libraries serve a variety of purposes for a variety of people. Creating a library district ensures the blood flow to the heart. In other words, funding is more stable, there is greater autonomy in decision-making for services offered, and access to this valuable establishment is secured.
Chantay Jett is Executive Director of Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness.