If you need some inspiration about the benefits of libraries in modern society, you might start with 2018's "The Library Book," by Susan Orlean—named a Top 10 Book of the Year by The Washington Post. The book chronicles the hunt for a suspected arsonist in the wake of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library—but also delves into the benefits libraries offer patrons, which go beyond stacks of books.
In a review in USA TODAY, writer Chris Woodyard mentions how a portion of the book covers "how libraries are embracing new roles in the information age with computer labs, e-books and services that go far beyond the core mission of lending books. In L.A.'s case, the library is reaching out to immigrants and the poor, including the homeless who increasingly spend their days in public libraries around the nation."
Think of a library and books might be the first things that come to mind. But in this modern era, libraries are repositories of many other types of information. They're places for those without a computer of their own to access online information or to pay a bill. They're reference points for new members of a community, or for those not in the know, so they can learn about and access vital public services. Sometimes, learning and accessing vital public services—and other information—comes in the form of a lecture, class or other public meeting.
Some in this community would have you believe that "meeting rooms" don't fit the definition of the type of service that a library should provide—that the inclusion of more meeting rooms in Deschutes Public Library's recently released capital plan is not unnecessary—that ideas such as meeting rooms come off like a "fanciful wish list," not rooted in the reality of what libraries should really be. We heartily disagree.
Orlean perhaps said it best when she was quoted in Intelligencer saying libraries could be the "saving grace" of society. Orlean commented that when people said, "I don't know why you need a library when everything's online, smart librarians were in place who could say that's not what it's all about. It's about having a center of information, of knowledge. And libraries have done a fantastic job in reimagining themselves."
The Deschutes Public Library's capital plan does indeed include reimaginings of what a library can and should provide—and we support that. While DPL considers whether to turn to voters with a request for a bond to pay for new and expanded libraries across the system, including libraries in Bend, Redmond and La Pine, they should look for ways to make the plans as cost-effective as possible to make them more palatable to voters. At the same time, they should not shy away from the innovations that modern libraries need in the modern age. Through books, computers, classes and yes, meeting rooms, libraries can make communities more equitable.