Haysville Community Library & the Future of Our City

 

(Originally written a couple of months ago (April), shortly after my arrival at the Haysville Community Library, this brief essay remains the best practical statement to date of my personal perception of the role and place of the library in our community. Comments avidly solicited.)

  

 

If you plan for a year, grow rice.

If you plan for a decade, grow trees.

If you plan for centuries, grow human beings.

 

                                                                                                — Chinese Proverb

 

 

 

Bang for the Buck

 

Local government is always and everywhere a matter of limited resources confronting practically limitless demands. Every choice is challenging and tough. Streets and sewers need repairs. Facilities are aging, outmoded or overcrowded. Every constituency, from the elderly to the very young, from growing families to the isolated homebound, presents the city with urgent priorities or unmet needs. Many worthwhile, even essential needs compete directly for scarce funds.

 

Often, difficult choices made by the city council address one critical priority at the expense of another. And every dollar spent must be raised from citizens whose own personal needs are no less vital. Those citizens and their priorities and aspirations are the very reason for the existence of that government.

 

In consequence, all too frequently government seems to be a zero sum game of “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” serving one vital community interest only by shortchanging another equally vital one.

 

But there is at least one very important exception. Every dollar spent wisely on a well-managed, public-spirited, state-of-the-art community library offers a return on investment that cannot be matched in any other way.

 

No other expenditure of public funds can simultaneously stimulate economic development, empower our citizens, encourage and facilitate community involvement, engage and enlighten our youth and enhance our community’s quality of life, while educating, entertaining and enriching the life of every city resident regardless of age, sex, income, social status or ability to pay.

 

A vibrant, well-funded public library isn’t a mere hodgepodge of dusty old volumes rotting away in an intellectual backwater: it is the vital hub and local gateway to global communication and worldwide information, the coin of the realm in the information age.

 

 

Stimulating Economic Development

 

For small businesses and aspiring start-ups, the Haysville Community Library is the great equalizer. Working on the thinnest of margins, often on a shoestring, entrepreneurs and smaller enterprises simply don’t have the resources to compete with ‘the big boys’ in such critical areas as research and information services. But these potentially fatal weaknesses are precisely those areas in which the library has considerable strength.

 

As just one example, consider that the Haysville Community Library’s free computer usage guarantees ready access to a host of absolutely free online courses offered by the Small Business Administration and a number of state agencies that encourage and facilitate the growth of small businesses.

 

These free courses encompass everything from identifying a target market and preparing a business plan to finding start-up funding, marketing a product or service, and a host of other vital small business concerns, including:

 

  Starting a business

  Business planning

  Business management

  Finance & accounting

  Marketing & advertising

  Government contracting

  Computer security

  E-commerce

  International trade

  Federal taxes

  Small business retirement

 

Using free public access to a computer at the Haysville Community Library, a large collection of allied information resources and services, and enthusiastic support from a team of concerned information professionals to aid his or her search, each and every citizen of Haysville who is thinking of starting a new business has a world of information at hand.

 

The library staff and facilities are also available to enable groups as well as individuals to utilize these free resources. All that is required is a phone call to the Haysville Community Library to reserve time, space and resources, and enlist the supportive aid of caring and involved professionals.

 

Of course, these facilities, services and resources aren’t restricted to use by start-ups and aspiring individuals. Established businesses and ongoing concerns are equally free and strongly encouraged to use the library to sharpen their competitive edge, discover emerging opportunities, and solve practical business problems on a daily basis.

 

There is an eminently logical reason why the Haysville Chamber of Commerce offices are located in the library: the Haysville Community Library is an unparalleled public resource for encouraging and strengthening community economic development, expansion and growth.

 

Empowering Citizens

 

No aspect of the great American experiment is of greater significance than the maintenance and preservation of our democratic freedoms. Yet few of our fellow citizens know even the most rudimentary facts about their own government. Less than half could tell you who represents them in Washington. The merest fraction could declare who represents them in Topeka. Even fewer have attended a meeting of the city council or the school board. Almost none know where to turn when they have a particular and pressing problem that can only be addressed by their local, state or national governments.

 

Or, if they do know, it’s all too frequently a matter of what Will Rogers described as “what you know that just ain’t so.” The resultant confusion and frustration is what so often explains, as pundit E.J. Dionne wrote a few years back, “Why Americans Hate Politics.”

 

For quick, correct, accurate, definitive answers to questions ranging from “who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology” and “what’s the current status of HB107” to “who’s my representative and how did he/she vote on x” there is simply no alternative front line resource that can match your community library.

 

Want to know the website address of every Presidential candidate not just Republicans and Democrats, but Greens, Libertarians, Independents, Socialists and both factions of the Prohibition Party ask the library.

 

From workshops on community involvement or on useful internet resources, to comprehensive printed source materials, to solid objective advice on the pros and cons of various political resource websites of all persuasions, the library can provide each and every citizen with the means to make informed decisions, to participate and to make their voices heard.

 

Similarly, the library assures a safe and welcoming environment, a community gathering place where citizens can explore and discuss ideas without fear of reprisal or censorship.

 

When used effectively, the community library can serve as a crucial link between the individual citizen and the larger community, strengthening our democracy and enhancing its value for all. The Haysville Community Library can be a political powerhouse because it is an information storehouse.

 

As the cognoscenti of the western world’s most enduring empire knew, potentia scientia est: Knowledge is Power.

 

 

Encouraging and Facilitating Community Involvement

 

Local government everywhere is inundated by the overwhelming need for engaged and active volunteers to perform vital community services. There is always more work to be done than hands and hearts and minds to do it. All the strengths which permit the community library to serve as a primary vehicle for the empowerment of citizens can also be used to connect our citizen volunteers to community tasks that urgently need doing.

 

One key indicator of the library’s central role in the life of the community, and its efficacy in marshalling resources to benefit the larger public, is the sheer number and diversity of private associations and informal affinity groups that use the resources of the library continuously.

 

From the Chamber of Commerce to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, from TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) to quilting groups, from the Association of Business and Professional Women to Cities & Schools, the library is open to all, and actively engaged in promoting community interests and public spirit. There’s always room for more.

 

 

Engaging and Enlightening Youth

 

At the time of the last census, the median age of Haysville residents was 33.5. Slightly more than one third of all residents (33.8%) were age 19 or less. Nearly 40% were under the age of 24. Our youngest citizens are a significant and growing fraction of our community, and the single most vital element in our emerging future.

 

In town meetings and public comments before the city council, one concern expressed consistently by a significant number of our most involved, active and thoughtful citizens, has been the crucial need to provide recreational diversions to our younger population that are  healthy, constructive and safe.

 

Along with school-sponsored and church-sponsored events, and organized athletics, the library is the paradigm of public institutions that can achieve those ends.

 

For Haysville youth, there is no community institution other than our public schools which can match the community library in its ability to instill curiosity, stimulate imagination, impart knowledge, evoke understanding, develop community awareness, and create opportunity.

 

Over summer vacations, on weekday afternoons after school, in the evenings and on weekends, the Haysville Community Library is the only convenient library and public internet venue available to school children. For preschoolers, it is simply the only library available at all. College students use the library when home for the weekend or on holiday breaks. And those who once abandoned school, or who have been forced by circumstance to abandon it, will find in the library a valuable resource for earning a GED and creating new opportunities and a brighter future.

 

There are few more inspiring or illuminating sights than watching a group from the Alternative High School avidly search for just the right book in the stacks on an early morning before class, or laughing with a preschooler as she stares in wide-eyed wonder at the discovery of an exciting and colorful new storybook, or observing inconspicuously as a dozen or more children, teenagers and young adults explore the enigmas and complexities of the world at large on the Internet after school.

 

 

Enhancing the Quality of Life

 

A strong and vibrant community library is a sine qua non of that difficult-to-define but intuitively understood talisman of cities everywhere, the quality of life.

 

In the 2004 edition of their work Cities Ranked & Rated, Bert Sperling and Peter Sander discussed the important role of media and libraries, the first component of their ranking index for “Arts & Culture.” “These assets,” they wrote, “Serve the twin purposes of providing intellectually stimulating entertainment and education for families and children. An area with strong cultural assets usually also has good educational ones, a strong sense of tradition and heritage, and finer entertainment options. Furthermore, strong cultural assets tend to attract other assets, thus improving an area’s overall quality of life. This fact is not lost on local governments and chambers of commerce, many of which will aggressively pursue such amenities with funding when they can.”

 

That’s why, according to Sperling and Sander, “over 90% of those surveyed believe that libraries play a vital role” in the life of their communities, and are inextricably linked with their community’s quality of life.

 

A strong, vibrant, public-spirited, state-of-the-art library is an integral element and key foundation stone of any dynamic and growing community’s essential quality of life.

 

 

Conclusion

 

In the Age of Information, community dollars invested wisely in a healthy public library generate an unequaled return on investment.

 

Contemporaneously stimulating economic development, empowering citizens, encouraging and strengthening community involvement, engaging and enlightening youth, and improving the community’s quality of life, the Haysville Community Library educates, entertains and enhances the life of every resident regardless of age, sex, income, social status or ability to pay. It preserves our yesterdays, enriches today, and enlightens and illuminates tomorrow.

 

 

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