Sunday, August 5th, 2018, in Johnson County Kansas. It is a sticky 90 degrees and the sky is achingly bright. In one hour a new 30,000 square foot, 18.1 million dollar Monticello Library will open for the first time. The local Boy Scout troop is nervously pacing as they prepare to raise the American and Kansas flags and lead us all in the pledge of alliance. The local Girl Scouts are getting ready to hold the ribbon that library board members will cut with an oversized pair of scissors. These scissors are capable of cutting a four-foot piece of duct tape and come with the instructions, “Do Not Run with these Scissors!!!”.
News crews have arrived, and the local NPR radio station is interviewing the Library Director. It is now 12:30 p.m., thirty minutes before the library will open, and all is calm. A small trickle of cars starts drifting into the new parking lot.
At 12:35 p.m. everything begins to change. What started as a trickle has now grown to a torrent of cars and within minutes the parking lot is at capacity. Police begin directing traffic into the overflow parking.
Librarians, who once appeared serene, now stand stoic as they prepare themselves for the tsunami of people preparing to enter the building.
Like Jack’s beanstalk, the crowd has grown and grown and grown.
12:45 p.m. The scouts take their positions and the flags are raised. The community stands together and recites the Pledge of Alliance. While I am sure that this is not the largest crowd that has ever gathered for a library opening, that’s really not the point.
To stand with your neighbors whose tax dollars have gone into building this community resource that will benefit generations long after we are all gone, to collectively join and say the pledge, “one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”, is good for the soul.
I happily pay taxes for education and libraries, not because I have children, but because I want to live in a community where everyone has the opportunity to gain a great education and have access to books.
12:55 p.m. The ribbon is cut and the photos are taken.
1:00 p.m. The doors to the library officially open.
1:07 p.m. The building’s occupancy is reached at 650 people and the line starts growing outside. Library staff hand out 700 water bottles that have been donated by the local Costco.
On a Sunday afternoon in Kansas, people choose to come with their families and explore their new library and check out books and DVDs. They meet their neighbors and smile at others. They show grace in the crowded parking lots.
Small girls and boys climb up and down the oversized steps built by the library. No monetary purchases are made and no transactions are being calculated. I am a witness to the art of living. Of spending time with the ones you love, exploring a new space together and finding a book you can take home and read together.
5:00 p.m. The library doors close and will open again on Monday morning at 9:00 a.m.
What was the tally?
399 changes, additions and new patron accounts were made
3,737 materials were checked out
777 materials were returned
750 waters were distributed
In a world that barks for your attention, and tech startups that commoditize your social networks it is easy for your sanity to be stretched. The library stands with museums, art galleries, and public parks to provide that space for your mind to rest. We recognize your humanity, your inner life and your need for reflection.
I believe that public service is imbedded in the DNA of public libraries and librarians. This is not a slogan, or a statement designed with subterfuge.
Public Libraries will never be Amazon, Apple or any other company that might surface in the next hundred years. Neither will Amazon or Apple ever be a Public Library, it is a role that is impossible for them to inhabit because it is not in their business genetic coding.
While I do not have the power to forgive you on behalf of all public libraries, I can offer you forgiveness on behalf of Johnson County Library. I can even do something better, I can offer you a Johnson County Library card.