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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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Opinion: Libraries are an essential public resource

Along with books, libraries provide unrestricted access to information and resources.
Image by Daye Stager

As far as government institutions go, libraries may be the least offensive. 

Libraries provide free books, information, internet access, and shared space to question, learn or simply exist. Public libraries are the epitome of a public good. They are non-excludable, free, non-rivalrous and many people can use a library at once. 

The only scarcity within a library is all copies of a popular book being checked out. 

Perhaps it is the only place left in which class is not a factor. Libraries make the world more fair. They are a place where curiosity is celebrated and profit is not a concern.

Brandi Van Dinter, a high school English teacher and former library student worker, spoke about how important libraries are for students and young people alike. 

“I think for a lot of kids, their after-school program is just going to the library,” Van Dinter said. “They offer space for people and space for kids to just be kids and do pure things that don’t cost money.” 

Van Dinter said libraries provide an essential right to all of their patrons. 

“I’m a firm believer that people should have access to information, whatever way, shape or form that is, and that is what a library is meant for,” Van Dinter said. 

As Van Dinter mentioned, public libraries often fill in the gaps by providing information and literature to all people, regardless of zip code or income bracket. 

At the University of Minnesota, some libraries work to meet student and community needs. 

University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Lisa German said one of the core principles of University libraries is accessibility. 

“Whether that’s through discovery, making connections between people and other people or resources and people, libraries are all about access,” German said. “Access to learning, access to material, access to programs, access to services, that’s really what we’re guided by, in a very inclusive and as equitable way as possible.” 

This accessibility is not just for University students either. University libraries are available to all community members.

“Anyone can borrow material from our libraries. Anyone can come to our libraries,” German said. “You don’t have to be a student. We get community borrowers all the time. You can come in, you can use our electronic resources, we take that very seriously. We borrow and lend a lot of material across the state of Minnesota.”

A few blocks off campus is another public library — the Arvonne Fraser Library in Dinkytown. 

Emma Bengston, a third-year University student who often uses the Arvonne Fraser Library to study, spoke about how important she sees the library for her local community. 

“It has free parking, free printing, community days, board game nights,” Bengtson said. “It’s just such a good thing to have in the community.” 

Bengston added the Arvonne Fraser Library is a place where she believes anyone can be accepted. 

“It’s such a judgment-free zone,” Bengston said. “Free period products, gender-neutral restrooms. It’s just so accessible for everyone.”

Apart from the atmosphere it provides, the Arvonne Fraser Library hosts several different events for patrons from all demographics. This summer, they are set to host a Medicare counseling session for seniors, a llama meet and greet for young children and a letter-writing social hour. 

The Arvonne Fraser Library is one of 41 libraries in the Hennepin County system. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Central Library made headlines, the New Yorker being one, for the services they provided across the community. 

During opening hours, the Minneapolis Central Library allows patrons to sleep inside, offering a warm location for many unhoused people. Beyond that, they have provided socks and drop-in hours with a social worker. 

Just across the Mississippi, Saint Paul Public Libraries also offer services beyond books for a slew of different needs including video call kits, vinyls and borrowable Minnesota state park passes. 

Rebecca Ryan, the deputy director for public services for Saint Paul Public Libraries, said aside from tangible services, Saint Paul libraries provide an important alternative space for people.

“All our buildings are public spaces,” Ryan said. “So besides coming to the library for books, we have many folks that come to the library because they need that third space that’s not their home or work that they don’t have to pay for. So I think a large part of our function in the city is to be that free public space for people. We say a lot of people are coming to the library to do their life.” 

Outside of the Twin Cities, libraries have proven to be cornerstones of communities nationwide. 

In Washington, D.C., several public libraries have been designated as “cooling centers” — places where people can stay safe from summer heat waves. In Midland, Texas, local libraries are providing free lunches to children and teenagers during the summer.

In New York City, fiscal budget cuts and reallocations last November led to several city libraries only being able to open six days a week, excluding Sundays, compared to the previous seven. This caused widespread public outcry, and as a result, the city council passed a new budget last week that restores library funding and is expected to allow New York City public libraries to reopen on Sundays. 

Although it is something many of us may take for granted, libraries stand for so much more than we realize. Not only for what they provide but for what they represent. They represent the idea that free and open information is a human right, and all members of the community are allowed to take up space.

So support your local library. Get a library card, and if libraries come up on ballots this November, vote in their favor.

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