Finding justice in ‘Not Just Books’

You’ve likely seen these or similar headlines and quotes: “Libraries for gathering, not just books.” “Today’s libraries…not just books anymore!” “We’ve tried to make sure people come in for more than checking out books.” “Counterpoint: Libraries’ mission is learning, not just books.” “When it comes to public libraries, most of us cannot see the forest for the … well, books.” “A library is not just about books: it’s also a place for the vulnerable.” “Not just books in the library!” “Nazareth’s new library director: ‘We’re not just books.’” “Ontario Public libraries offer more than just books—they offer community.”

By Creed Kidd,
Library Director

With all due respect to well-meaning institutions and people, and recognizing a certain, definite need to highlight all library services, still we feel there’s injustice in relegating the written and spoken word to “not just” or “only” or “merely.”

All lasting civilizations have been predicated on the written word. The document or book has established or defined cultures and provided a means of social continuity. There’s a strong, enduring line between the Guttenberg Bible and Project Guttenberg, and a direct, historical relationship between the oral tradition and today’s transcribed rap song.

Here at Red Feather Lakes Community Library we tend to both celebrate the availability — and encourage the use — of books. The format of the book can vary with technological innovation: we’re fine with the printed volume, the monthly periodical, board books, books on CD and eBook readers. We offer all for borrowing. In the larger sense, misquoting Gertrude Stein, “a book is a book is a book” and you’re welcome to select the format of your choice.

We offer many other services for borrowing as well, from weekly Colorado State Park passes, robotics and building-block kits, costumes, food play kits, puzzles, nature backpacks, GPS units, wrist fitness trackers, binoculars, laptops, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) kits, assemble-yourself models and a host of other options and opportunities.

But reading and the book remain fundamental. That can be FUN-damental in the sense of leisure or recreational reading (which we heartedly recommend) or funda-MENTAL with opportunities through reading and listening for learning, awareness, perspective, empathy and broadening. Your choice. Never apologize or regret your reading choices, but nonetheless, read. We tend to think that those who do are better people for it.

So, finding justice within “not just books” rests squarely with the book itself, which is not now, nor has it ever, been peripheral, but rather central to the human condition. We’re 100 percent behind books and 110 percent behind reading.

If, in some unfortunate series of events, the library would somehow lose the toys, kits, manipulatives, visual material and other things that are today important in providing library service still, if we retain books we retain bedrock — and would suffice.