Tag!! You’re it!

April 1, 2014

Wednesday another “rite of spring” will wander through our community. Most places of business will be visited by a person bearing a box and collection of one inch square “tags”. It’s Library Tag Day – the one time each year that our local library requests support from the citizens.
I can remember the excitement I felt as a child when I was finally able to go to the lending library in our small community and check out books. It wasn’t that far from the house, and I was often allowed to go alone, provided I returned by a set time. Our library was a branch of the larger one in Cincinnati. As I progressed in school, and sometimes needed references that were not available at our branch, I was allowed to hop a bus on Saturday morning for a trip to downtown Cincinnati and the public library. It seemed huge to me…with many stories (of the constructed sort, not in books, although those were there as well…), and an enormous skylight. There were historical books that I could examine there, persons ready to assist me in research, and a little cafeteria which provided sandwiches to be eaten outside on Fountain Square.
At that time, I gave little thought to how an institution like this was funded. I realized that the little storefront in my community was “part” of this storehouse of knowledge, but I knew little beyond that. The cardboard card I treasured was free, and there was never a late return of a book, so I didn’t contribute to the upkeep very much!
We don’t think about libraries in the same way anymore. The information available on the internet has made research from home, school or work convenient. There is no need to track down tomes and indexes, to dive into card catalogs and dusty stacks. (Although that was really quite an adventure for a preteen girl!). Books have become so inexpensive that most of us are able to afford whatever we wish to read without much thought. Magazines and novels can be downloaded to a phone or electronic reader for a fraction of the cost of a book.
Our library is still a vital part of the community. The Board and staff have been creative in finding ways to survive without imposing more than they have to on taxing entities. In the past, they have managed to get grants from the state, and to obtain assistance from the Big County Library System. As with other worthwhile programs, funding available from the state has dwindled, leaving our local community responsible for keeping our library the resource we need it to be.
In addition to the books one expects to find in a library, the County-City Library hosts ESL classes, has computers with internet access and wireless service for those who need it, access to electronic as well as audio books, and offers a host of programs for children and adults. It is not an anachronism, but is as vital and necessary a part of Nolan County as it ever was.
The concept libraries has been around for centuries; even the Greeks and Romans had buildings for the purpose of allowing people to read what others wrote. Popular books were often chained to a desk to insure that they did not wander off. The concept of a “lending library”, that is, a place where the patron is allowed to remove an asset, a book, and is trusted to return it in good time and repair, is relatively new and totally American. Subscription libraries, which allowed those who could afford it to pay dues and borrow books were relatively common, both on our shores and in Europe. Benjamin Franklin is credited with starting the Library Company of Pennsylvania, which is the forerunner to the lending library most of us knew as children.
Library Tag Day was started by the Women’s Forum in Sweetwater about sixty years ago. The little paper tags with their rubber bands are not likely to be keepsakes that will grace anyone’s living room in years to come. However, the money that is donated for this day, which helps keep our library open and operating, is a true donation to generations to come.
I never would have dreamed, boarding that bus to go downtown for the day, that I would at some point be able to do the same research from my desk in an office. Just for fun, I tried it, and sure enough, the same volumes I accessed then are available on line. But the smell, the feel, the sight just isn’t the same. When you see that volunteer with a hand filled with tags on Wednesday, make a donation in memory of what libraries have meant to all of us – and will mean in the future. Tag….you’re it!

Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com.

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