And in an Opinion essay, “Thankful for Libraries,” Charles M. Blow shares how vital these institutions have been for him:
But particularly for these kinds of people, living in rural areas, libraries can be an incredible tool. When I was a senior in high school, I won my way to the International Science and Engineering Fair. That year, 1988, it was being held in Knoxville, Tenn. It was the first time I would fly and the first time I would travel far from home.
Determined not to expose myself as a hick, I went to the library in Arcadia and checked out every book of etiquette on the shelves. They were familiar to me, reference books, books of rules that in my mind were the only thing separating me from the appearance of refinement and sophistication. I devoured those books.
I guess you could say that now, all that information can be found online, but high-speed broadband is not as ubiquitous as you might think. In 2019 the Pew Charitable Trusts explained that the number of Americans without broadband “could be over 163 million,” and that included 40 percent of schools and 44 percent of adults in households with incomes below $30,000.
Again in college, it was in libraries that I found myself, not only physically but spiritually. It was in books in the college library that I first saw and read about openly queer people, that I first read about the Stonewall riots and the gay rights movement. The books were stored in a corner of the library that almost no one seemed to visit, but I went there often.
In the stacks, I learned that my difference wasn’t anomalous. Up to that point, even in college, I had never met a person who was openly queer.
Students, read one or both of these pieces, then tell us:
What are your earliest memories of visiting a library? Who was with you? Did you borrow books? Do you remember any impressions of that visit?
Do you currently frequent the library at your school or in your neighborhood? If so, what do you do there? What do you like or dislike about the library? If you don’t visit libraries, what other spaces in your life serve the purposes described in these articles?
What role does reading play in your life? Has it changed over time? Do you read books outside of the classroom? If so, how do you obtain them? Do you borrow or download books from the library, buy them yourself or pass them around among family and friends?
Mr. Blow says that “it was in libraries that I found myself, not only physically but spiritually.” Have you ever had an experience in a library like the one he described? If so, what was it, and how has it affected your life?
Mr. Blow also writes, “In an era of increased book banning, library defunding and even bomb threats, it seems that now more than ever I ought to make clear how valuable and central libraries have been to my life and success.” Do you feel like libraries are under fire in your community? Have you witnessed or heard about book bans, budget cuts or threats of violence at your local library? What about at school? How, in your opinion, should situations like those be handled? Why?
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.
Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.