This article appears in the March print edition alongside the cover story, “Can America Put Itself Back Together?”—a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single-engine plane.
As we traveled around the U.S. reporting on the revival of towns and cities, we always made the local library an early stop. We’d hit the newspaper offices, the chamber of commerce, city hall, and Main Street for an introduction to the economics, politics, and stresses of a town. The visit to the public library revealed its heart and soul.
The traditional impression of libraries as places for quiet reading, research, and borrowing books—and of librarians as schoolmarmish shush-ers—is outdated, as they have metamorphosed into bustling civic centers. For instance, Deschutes Public Library in Bend, Oregon, now cooperates with dozens of organizations, from AARP (which helps people with their taxes) to Goodwill (which teaches résumé writing). A social worker trains staff to guide conversations about one of the most frequent questions people trustingly bring into the library: Can you help me figure out how to meet my housing costs?
There are three areas where libraries function as vibrant centers of America’s towns: technology, education, and community.
Via Trudy Raymakers