With National Library Week festivities just coming to a close, you might ask: “Why do we need a library in the age of the internet?” Believe it or not, this is a question that we on the Board of Trustees for the Nampa Public Library hear from time to time. While many are tempted to scoff at the question, we consider it a helpful way to get at the vision and purpose of our library. As we plan for the future, there are at least three parts of the answer to which we find ourselves consistently returning.
First, the library is a key part of our city’s commitment to education. While tablets and e-readers are very useful, of course, educators are increasingly convinced that the glow of a screen has its own drawbacks and that the use of physical books ought to be encouraged now more than ever. The joy of a child leaving the library with an armload of books simply cannot be replaced.
Second, we believe that our library serves as an important “third place”— neither home nor work—for members of our community to gather and interact. In a society that often seems increasingly divided and polarized, library programs and gathering spaces contribute to our city center and provide a place for citizens to engage one another and to share ideas.
Third, our library has a purpose that is, in many ways, weightier than the first two: to protect the freedom of access to information for our city’s residents. Idaho’s Constitution enshrines certain protections for public libraries, including establishing boards of trustees, in order to safeguard a kind of political independence for the library. This is a duty that we take seriously and one that local government is committed to protecting. When it comes to protecting access to information, we believe that local is better.
In all of these ways, the library as a physical place, with physical books and networked computers and gathering places, stands as an expression of our city’s commitment to education, community and freedom. And the internet can never replace any of that.
This past week and in the future we celebrate the contributions of our Nampa library and its workers. We feel the library is a vital piece of our downtown, a popular meeting place for citizens of all ages. From free access to books and online resources for families, to roomy spaces and meeting rooms, to an initiative that supports workforce development, our library offers opportunity to all.
Nick Smith is the chairman of the Nampa Library Board of Trustees. His colleagues endorse this opinion: Rosie Reilly, Peggy Shaver, Dr. Phil Bence and Debra Holm.