Roman philosopher Cicero said that “a room without books is like a body without a soul.”
I was reading with one of our children the other day and realized just how much our kids love books. Each time the story ended I would hear “more” and saw the delight on our child’s face as we started another literary adventure.
Reading is so important in life because it not only gives us a vital tool that we always use but it helps shape us. Reading touches our souls in a way that nothing else does. Reading gives us understanding. Reading makes us think and helps us imagine ideas and concepts beyond our own. Publisher Charles Scribner said, “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.”
People having the ability to read when and what they want and having many choices is something that we cannot put enough value on. We are lucky to live in a place where the freedom to read exists. We are also lucky that books are available to the public for free. Having free books available to the masses is the function of our public libraries.
Many people only think of public libraries as a place to borrow books and other materials such as movies, but they are so much more. Libraries often do things such as sponsor reading programs, host community events and speakers, hold book sales, and host numerous kids and family events, (especially during the summer months). Libraries also go out into the community and offer their programs and services…most of the time for free.
Manchester has a good library system. The city library itself is 161 years old and calls the beautiful Italian Renaissance-style Carpenter Building home. The main branch may be located in a historic building but offers modern amenities and services. The library has pretty much everything covered. But there is something that the library is lacking … and that is outreach. I do not fault the library for this as they are often one of the last to receive money from the city and really don’t have substantial funds – or at least not enough – to pay for a lot of outreach. And an underfunded library system is not exclusively a Manchester thing. Libraries are not the priority in many communities, especially in urban areas where ironically they are needed the most. Even though public libraries are playing a larger role, many still only receive minimal funding.
But Manchester is not like other cities. This could be an area where the city excels by doing something different; something somewhat unique in this day and age. Manchester could have a top library system that reaches out to people in the city. Manchester could have a library system that is truly accessible to everyone!
Of the many ways that effective outreach can be achieved, three come to mind. The first two have been discussed in a previous article.
My first idea is to bring back the bookmobile.
For many years, the Manchester Public Library operated a bookmobile. The bookmobiles traveled to city neighborhoods and to the public schools and provided people with extra access – and for some the only access – to materials, programs and services. It was a great outreach that many of us looked forward to. In fact, my first library card came from the bookmobile back when I was at Gossler.
Today’s bookmobiles are much different – and way more modern – so the library could have a few smaller ones with limited titles on board and the remainder could be ordered online for pick-up the next time it is in the area. (The on board books could be the most popular or area-specific).
The second method of outreach could be micro-branches in different parts of the city. The micro-branches are similar to the “Little Free Libraries” that were discussed in a previous article, except that they would be larger, would be staffed, (possibly by volunteers), would have library-owned books, and would follow the same borrowing procedures as the larger branches. These could be known as “library rooms” and could be placed pretty much anywhere from small storefronts to inside of city-owned buildings.
The final method of outreach that I would like to mention is program outreach. My family and I went to a teddy bear event at Victory Park that was hosted by the library and would like to see more events at more parks throughout the city. These could be events for kids, teens, and adults as well as block parties and attendance at local festivals – all with the purpose of promoting literacy and the importance of reading. Maybe have some offsite library and reading-related classes at neighborhood centers, (such as literacy for adults classes. Let’s teach people how to read!).
As mentioned, I believe that Manchester has a good library system and do not fault them for the limitations that they have. But with a little creative thinking – and some public-private partnerships and more fundraising – more outreach to the community is possible. Libraries are important, let’s help them reach more people!
About the author: Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who moved to Manchester from Raymond in 1980 at the age of 8. He attended Gossler Park Elementary, Parkside and Southside Junior High, and West High, from which he graduated in 1990. After attending Notre Dame College in Manchester, Brian completed his undergraduate degree at Rhode Island College in Providence. Brian and his wife Jackie then came to Manchester in 2004 and were involved in various outreach organizations. Their two boys were born in Manchester during this time. After his position was eliminated in 2009, Brian and his family returned to Rhode Island. They have been living in Providence since 2010. Brian and his family love Manchester and are planning on returning within the next few months. Brian is currently working at helping the city move forward by connecting with other stakeholders and becoming involved with like-minded groups. Brian is also laying the foundation for an organization that will help strengthen the city and help it move forward.
Brian holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Grand Canyon University. Brian currently works at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also founder of a Facebook Group, Manchester Forward. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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