John Heminge and Henry Condell, in their preface to the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, published in 1623, urge readers to read their book and “censure” or review it, but to buy it first. They emphasize that the fate of book sellers depends upon the buying public, not just the reading public.
In the years following 1476 when William Caxton introduced the printing press into England, few people had personal libraries. The introduction of the printing press made book-buying more accessible to the average person. Nearly four hundred years after Heminge and Condell’s entreaty, various publishers make the same appeal-read it, but buy it first! Only with the advent of the lending library have books become even more accessible to readers.
LIBRARIES ARE NOT FREE
However, libraries are not “free.” We pay for them with tax money, so when we check out a book, DVD, audio CD, or other material, such as a museum pass, we have paid for that privilege through local, state, and federal tax dollars. Just as booksellers need readers to buy their books as well as read them, public libraries need funding to support their reading programs. In investigating the history of public libraries, I found two web sites of particular interest: The Straight Dope and About America’s Libraries. These sites discuss public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries, among other types of libraries, and services these libraries offer readers.
MORE THAN JUST BOOKS
For many readers, reading begins at home, with parents or other caregivers reading to children at bedtime. As children learn to read, the public library can be a source of more varied reading material. My father took my siblings and me to the library regularly once we became independent readers. A proud moment for me is the time I read all of my books in the car on the ride home. It was time to graduate to young adult books!
Today, libraries offer much more than a selection of books to check out. In Upstate New York, as in many other areas, libraries belong to consortia which allow library cardholders more variety in selection of books and services. If my home library does not have a book I want, I can get it from another library in the consortium. If it is not available through the consortium, most books are available through Interlibrary Loan.
In addition, libraries host music programs and concerts, children’s programs, and films. They offer resources such as tax preparation materials, e-readers, and support for those who own e-readers. They offer help with job searches and resume writing. Public libraries pull communities together in ways such as offering space for literacy tutoring, facilitating book discussion groups, and offering gallery space for art exhibits.
HOW TO HELP
While some library patrons take their local library for granted, libraries suffer in lean economic times, just as schools and other tax-funded organizations. Readers can support their public libraries in many ways, such as offering financial support as a friend of the library. Also, patrons can volunteer to help out in the library or to support programs in the library. Many libraries have wish lists of gifts-in-kind, such as office supplies.
The admonition of Heminge and Condell to their readers in 1623 is just as relevant to library patrons in the 21st Century. Remember, patronize your public library. Make use of the multitude of services it offers, in addition to lending books. Regardless, make sure to support your local library financially or in-kind, as well.