Libraries more than just a phase

Posted 7/23/09

Recently I was chatting with a friend, who told me that there are seven phases of life. I found it compelling. These phases or transitions mark the …

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Libraries more than just a phase


Recently I was chatting with a friend, who told me that there are seven phases of life. I found it compelling.

These phases or transitions mark the passage from one state of being to another:

Birth. Where it all begins. (Or does it?)

Childhood. Few of us remember anything before the age of 4 or 5. The end of infancy is the beginning of memory. Or it may be the other way around.

Puberty. These first stirrings of sex herald adulthood.

Adulthood. At this threshold, formal schooling is done. One begins a work career, or otherwise joins the grown-up world.

Family. This might involve spouses and children. But at a deeper level, this is about establishing important and enduring relationships, in which someone other than you is nurtured and supported.

Retirement/empty nest. The formal work years are done. The children are gone.

Death. Where it all ends. (Or does it?)

Part of me wants to structure the arc of a life around the notion of values.

It looks like this: we receive values (through childhood), we test values (adolescence), we apply values (in work and early adult life), we transmit values (as parents and mentors), and just possibly, we transcend values (as questing seniors).

There's a library connection to all of this. (Surprise!)

It just might be that the real and true significance of my venerable institution is this: we're there.

That is, the public library is there for you, with a host of customized offerings, for everybody, at any and every phase of your life.

There are a happy few of us who established a habit of library use as children, and continued through the rest of our days. We are well familiar with the regular offerings of the the public library.

But for a significant percentage of the population, that habit never got formed. What, then, is the value of the library to them?

I think there are two.

First, the library as an institution assembles the public around activities that promote the public good: literacy, lifelong learning, civic engagement, and culture. Together, libraries encourage our communities to be both more civilized and more interesting.

Second, no matter how together you may feel, the odds are good that at least one of these big life transitions — or the many smaller transitions that occur within them (such as a job change or health crisis) will catch you offguard. You won't feel quite equipped to deal.

And there we are: with books and databases and programs on healthy pregnancy (to deal with those before-birth issues), on early brain development, on support for education, on the issues of young adulthood, on career planning, on rearing your children and relationships, on retirement, and on estate planning (for those after-death issues).

Or it could be that our main contribution in such times of stress is simple escape. Overwhelmed by life? You need … a western! A mystery! A romance!

What was once "a nice thing to have" now becomes absolutely essential to navigating a time of profound transformation in your life. And you don't have to do anything weird to access it: We're already a part of your community, with people trained to guide you quickly and confidentially to the sources that make a difference.

The public library: it's not just a phase. It's for all the phases of our all too complicated lives.

Jamie LaRue is director of Douglas County Libraries. LaRue's Views are his own. Contact him at 303-688-7656.


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