In Celebration of the Public Library
By: Dr. Peaches Henry
I am relieved that the Llano County (Texas) commissioners kept their library system open and returned banned books to the library shelves. Yet, I am dismayed that Missouri’s House voted to cut all funding for libraries in its version of the state’s annual budget, because the American Civil Liberties Union, the Missouri Association of School Librarians, and the Missouri Library Association are suing the state over the censorship of some books from school libraries across the state. I do not intend to litigate the practice of banning books here. [To get my view on that, see my 1992 essay “The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn.”] Instead, during National Library Week (April 23-29), I want to celebrate the Waco McLennan County Library for the profound way it touches the lives of Wacoans.
Our library provides essential services to children, families, individuals, and the community at large. A truly remarkable place, the public library provides safe, accessible, one hundred percent free educational resources to everyone. It pools local resources like educational offerings, job training, and computer or internet access and puts them all in one place for use by the whole community. Whether you are a family looking for a fun story time, an immigrant looking for language help, a student working on a History Fair project, a person needing help on their taxes, or a homeless person looking for a place to cool off, you can find them all at the library—a place that has undergone transformation that makes it an altogether different place from the one previous generations enjoyed.
Indeed, the modern public library that serves Waco McLennan County is not your grandparents’ library. These days, there is more to the story when it comes to the library which provides services far beyond the traditional task of checking books in and out. Even that has been transformed. Patrons can access ebooks, emagazines, and audiobooks in the CloudLibrary and read them anywhere. They can also check out a mind-boggling range of “Special Items” which include blood pressure kits, sensory backpacks for specials needs children, disc golf kits, discovery boxes, and puppet kits. Special Items educational kits include flash cards, literacy kits for preschoolers, and STEAM kits for upper-elementary children. Among the most prized of the special items are the free family passes to local museums and sites including the Mayborn Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, and the Dr. Pepper Museum to name a few. The library’s Special Items collections offer free access to materials that many families cannot afford to purchase.
The library also boasts numerous, varied children’s programs aimed all ages. Everything from themed storytimes (money smart, STEAM, or super hero) to painting to a Minecraft and Roblox club to a look behind-the-scenes tour of the library to summer reading programs is available to children. As a member of the Library Commission, I was delighted to judge the library’s inaugural Edible Book Festival on April Fool’s Day.
In addition to catering to children, the library also offers essential support to adult Wacoans. It maintains partnerships with local entities which deliver needed services. The Heart of Texas Goodwill, for instance, holds computer skills and financial literary classes at the library. The Heart of Texas Workforce Solutions gives free one-on-one job skills training. The library hosts books clubs such as Books & Brew or the Mystery Book Club. It sponsors adult programs such as healthy crock pot cooking, an adult anime and manga club, and free tax preparation not to mention the work of the Genealogy Center.
The modern Waco McLennan County Library is a completely different place from the old Palestine Carnegie Library that I used to walk to as a child. Yet, in the most meaningful way, it remains the same iconic institution that I grew up with. The library is still the community hub that connects people to information, offers essential services and resources, brings people together, encourages lifelong learning, provides safe havens for children and adults, helps build healthy communities, and transports individuals around the world and to other worlds. Like libraries around the state and nation, our local library is an important public institution that we must support and protect now more than ever.
Dr. Peaches Henry is a member of the Waco McLennan County Library Advisory Commission.
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