Gathering Together at the Library

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Public Library

Contributor: Colleen Rortvedt, Director at Appleton Public Library

When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I would be when I grew up. I remember watching business people walking into offices and thinking there was no way I could ever do “that,” whatever “that” was.
What drew me to libraries initially was the deep connection I made to books in my youth. Books provided me a lifeline of escape from the typical and sometimes traumatic moments of childhood. Also, as an extremely driven person raised by a single mom, I loved that the public library was the place you could pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You had to be committed to do it for yourself, but the library gave you access to resources and guidance from professionals. It seemed very much part of the American way of life.

The more time I’ve spent in this vocation, I realize what keeps me here is less about those individualistic principles and more about building strong communities. Just like our messy democracy, a library contains all sorts of things that don’t seem like they should work together: people and ideas from different backgrounds, experiences, and values. The library is both quiet and noisy. It’s modest while serving as a beacon for civic aspirations. It’s a place where people can be alone and together. These things all seem to contradict each other, but in the library they work.
In recent years, the library has served as my source for hope. While the rest of the world (or at least social media and cable news) seems to have fallen prey to propaganda, I have become more convinced that the world is mostly a decent place. I get to walk around the library every day and see that people are kind to their neighbors and strangers far more often than they are screaming at them, even when they don’t agree. When people interact with others that are different than them on a regular basis, ideological dehumanizing is much harder.
As we celebrate National Library Week this week, I encourage you to visit your local library and experience the contradictory and beautiful joys of our libraries and our democracy. Every day you can encounter new and different people, feel more connected to your community, and maybe even check out a book.

In 2018, the Appleton Public Library became a new United Way Fox Cities partner agency, eligible for ongoing funding for their Reach Out and Read program.