Card carrying cornerstones

The American Libraries Association (ALA) describes it as “the most important school supply.” Our own Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System has just announced a major upgrade to theirs. What is it? A library card, of course.

September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month, a time when members of the community are encouraged to go get a library card. If you are new to the system, the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Libraries will provide a card for free. If you’re replacing your old one with the updated model, it will cost a whopping $1 (unless you’ve lost your old one, in which case the price quadruples to a great big $4).

As reported by The Commercial, Library System Director Michael Sawyer said that he and his staff had decided that new cards would complement the library’s many, ongoing “positive service developments.” As with many of the previous enhancements, patrons can expect a bonus with the new cards.

“Cardholders will receive a wallet-sized card as well as a card to place on a key chain,” said Sawyer. “Patrons can use whichever card they prefer. Having two cards will be more convenient for our patrons.”

While the world routinely reminds us that there’s no such thing as a “free lunch,” libraries provide proof to the contrary. According to the ALA, “(Libraries) provide all types of students with the tools they need to succeed… . They provide students with exciting and engaging programs that make learning fun and resources that they can access from the library or from home – all with a free library card. It is for these reasons that a library card is most important school supply of all.”

We couldn’t agree more. Our local libraries are a great testament to these facts. They have materials to meet any interest and level of use. Whether you want to get lost in gritty detective fiction, explore the galaxy, learn to bake bread or research your ancestry, our local library provides the tools. Whatever peaks your interest, they have something to expand your horizons. Given that almost everything they offer is free or nearly so, greater bargains cannot be found.

While it requires a shhhh … hushed tone, libraries can also be great places to make friends and hold study groups. For that matter, many a romance has started by browsing through the “stacks.”

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, a man whose career is notable as much for his commitment to education as politics, once observed, “Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.”

In communities such as ours — where so many young people find themselves behind the economic and educational eight ball — Jefferson’s sage admonishment deserves special consideration. The resources contained within the walls of our local libraries have the capacity to serve as social, economic, educational and professional cornerstones for our next generation of leaders. In order for them to do so, we are obliged to provide our libraries with solid ground upon which to lay those cornerstones.

The resources necessary to operate this important community resource are but a pale shadow of those consumed by most other public projects. Even so, our libraries are often forced into a kind of Dickensian begging for alms. While we certainly need roads and drainage, police and fire protection, we need knowledge protection as well. These institutions and the sentinels of learning that staff them make us a better place in which to live. In return we should ensure they have the resources necessary to perform their vital task.