Library services are underestimated

Libraries are easily overlooked, but they serve the community quietly in many ways.


by Cara Barone, Writer

As a small child, I loved learning how to read. Naturally, when I got old enough to read books on my own, I loved visiting the library as well. However, I think that public libraries are often underappreciated and passed up for bookstores and coffee shops, despite the value they bring to their communities.

Unlike bookstores and coffee shops, libraries are completely free for public use. I can go to a library to study, do my homework or anything else without the expectation to spend any money. I grew up going to the plaza branch of the library.

In elementary school, my mom would take me there to get as many books as I wanted, which would never be the case if we always had to buy the books. This allowed me to improve my literacy and learn. The librarians organized stacks of picture books by topics that children might be interested in that week, and my sister and I attended art classes — all for free. The library provides many community need-based programs like these, such as test proctoring services for students, opportunity and services programs for immigrants and refugees, book clubs and more.

In fact, I got my first interview for a job by attending their teen job fair as a freshman, which was for a job painting faces at the Kansas City Zoo for a company that hires for the zoo and Worlds of Fun. I didn’t get the job, but I gained experience from it.

The library also provides a sense of community.  At the plaza library, there are librarians that remember my sister and I from when we were little, and they are always kind. For instance, when I was 4 years old, my mom enrolled my 8 year old sister and I in an art class at the library that was for kids ages five and up. My mom assured me that no one would guess I wasn’t supposed to be there, but during the lesson I felt scared of being found out because I was the youngest child there. However, I will always remember how kind the librarians were to me during the session and they made me feel more comfortable.

Recently, the library has advanced their mission to make sure “more people in our community have greater access to the Library’s vital materials, resources, and services” by doing away with overdue fines, according to the Kansas City Public Library website. This “Freedom From Fines” program makes the library more accessible to those who can’t afford to pay the fines, and prevents financial status from discouraging people from accessing the library, which is important because libraries are one of the few educational resources that are completely free and accessible to all. This is just one example of how public libraries in Kansas City actively strive to meet the community’s needs.

Libraries also offer access to technology such as computers, research databases and more. In 2010, 67% of public libraries reported they were the only free source of computer and Wi-Fi access in their community, according to the American Library Association. This access is increasingly important as having computer access becomes more critical. Because of this, libraries are helping to close the gap of opportunities between people with and without internet access.

One of libraries’ most valuable attributes is their reliability. The library is an institution that continues to be open day after day to everyone, and has been for generations. They are often quietly integral to a community — beyond the programs they offer, they contribute to census information collection, and act as gathering places. According to the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization, librarians often act as “ad hoc social workers and navigators” that “help local people figure out the complexities of life.” Because of this, over 90% of adults view public libraries as “welcoming and friendly places,” despite there being an estimated 116,867 libraries in the U.S. today according to the ALA.

Libraries remain so important and valuable to the community. Support your local library by participating in it through utilizing its services and visiting. After all, it’s free.