You can judge a city by its library
During my seventh-grade shop class, we had a substitute teacher who ran out of ideas before the end of the class period. To kill time, he went around the room and told each of us what we would be when we grew up. We'd never met him before: He was...
During my seventh-grade shop class, we had a substitute teacher who ran out of ideas before the end of the class period. To kill time, he went around the room and told each of us what we would be when we grew up. We'd never met him before: He was judging books by their covers -- appropriately enough, in my case, because he predicted: "You'll be a librarian. Definitely a librarian."
A librarian? Was it the glasses?
While I've never gone to library school, I have worked in several libraries and will always have a soft spot for public libraries in particular. My mom worked for about a dozen years at the Duluth Public Library, so I'm unashamedly partisan. But the public library can tell you a lot about a city: Is it shiny glass filled with flashy computers? Is it ivy-covered brick redolent of ink and paper? Crowded with kids? Haunted by homeless people? Patronized by the young and the old, the tattooed and the golf-shirted alike?
Duluth libraries are all of these things, and while each branch has a different flavor, all are heavily used and well-loved. We all have our pet facilities, of course, toward which we're glad to put our tax dollars. It's truly a bargain when you consider, as one analyst puts it, 23 cents a day could keep our libraries open full-time and our librarians employed.
I'm glad that Mayor Ness relented on closing the branches completely, although having witnessed the surging crowds that descend daily on the branch libraries, I can't help but feel for staff tackling intensified traffic during the new, reduced opening hours.
My friend Nic Netzel is a librarian, and his work dispels the notion that library shelves are crammed with dusty, unread volumes. In addition to his duties as a school librarian, he teaches a course on comic books and graphic novels -- a riposte to the common complaint that "young people don't read anymore."
Netzel, who graduated from East High School the same year as I did, gained his master's degree in library science from the University of Washington, and currently resides in Columbia, Md. He was disappointed to hear of our libraries' travails, which make his goal of returning to Duluth seem more remote than ever.
"I am biased, of course, by the fact that I am a librarian," he told me, "but it's disheartening to see library jobs get cut when those are the kind of things that I'm looking for to bring me back to a community that I care about."
Netzel is exactly the kind of person Duluth wants to hold on to. He's young, smart, a dedicated professional -- and he pays his taxes. Furthermore, he loves this city.
"I [live] in Columbia, a town that is not my home ... but that is part of a great public library system," he continued, explaining there are multiple branches open seven days a week with great programming -- attributes he said "almost make me reconsider my desire to move back to Duluth."
For Netzel, a good library system is an important factor in choosing where to settle. In fact, quality public services like libraries are the kind of thing that can attract residents to a city, expanding the very tax base that makes them possible.
I'd chip in my 23 cents a day.
HANNAH DENTINGER of Duluth teaches English at Lake Superior College.