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What's the best use of the public library?

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Who knew that the public library was such a hot topic? Yesterday William Wisner’s op-ed, “Restore the Noble Purpose of Libraries,” was one of the most-viewed articles on the website of The Christian Science Monitor.

As a regular library-goer myself, I was struck in particular by one line: “Libraries are currently popular only because everything's free.”

The observation rang true. At my local library, most of the tables are occupied by men who seem not to have any other place to go. Many appear unwashed and little fed. They thumb through books and doze. Others are well-dressed but restless. I’ve concluded that they’ve been hit by the recession and are out of jobs. They’re on laptops, frantically sifting through Web pages.
Wisner is right that for these gentlemen the library isn’t a place for the patient pursuit of knowledge. It’s a roof or an office until they can afford one of their own.

Wisner’s also right that the library isn’t a quiet place. Mine is full of little kids whose moms and nannies have created an informal play group. If Wisner is irritated that the librarian’s function has become to change the printer pages, at least he’s not in charge of maintaining the changing table in the women’s restroom. “Please dispose of dirty diapers!” one note plaintively reads, no doubt penned by a librarian who can quote the Prologue of “The Canterbury Tales” in Middle English.


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