Like millions, I feel as if I’m on a first-name basis with you, all the while knowing that is not true. Just because you come into our homes doesn’t mean that we go into yours. It must be surreal for you to know that millions of strangers consider you a friend.
I’m writing because I just spent the better part of several days with my daughters watching discs from The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection. My younger daughter, who is 19, requested the set for Christmas. I have three children, including another daughter and son, and we have all bonded more than once over your shows. Almost more than any one thing I can point to easily or quickly, your shows have been the catalyst for so many meaningful discussions. Thank you for that.
I’m also writing because what strikes me most about those shows is that they change lives in real and purposeful ways. And I know from regularly watching for decades how important that is to you. My biggest takeaway from your work is that you understand that everybody just wants to be heard and seen and understood and that by telling our stories all of us not only have the potential to be heard and seen and understood, but we have the potential to change lives and to make a difference to someone we don’t even know.
Which brings me to my final reason for writing—as a champion of books and reading, you know full well the power of the written word to change people’s lives, too. The stories in books—whether in print or digital or audio format–live on forever and continue to impact life after life after life. Libraries are much more than warehouses for these stories, although they are that, too. Libraries have their own stories to tell and they have the potential to change lives, too, almost every day. Not only by providing equal access to the stories of others, but by providing a safe, open environment in which to learn and grow and change. Libraries help bridge the digital divide by providing free internet access. Libraries help people help themselves.
Libraries need a champion who understands the value of stories and the value of people and the value of bringing stories and people together. They need someone who has the presence and the power to raise the collective profile of the public library (school, academic, and special, too) and to convince an online society that the local public library (which can be accessed online, too) is still relevant, needed, and well worth their tax dollars.
Many, if not most, public libraries are busier than ever since free anything is a good value in a bad economy. But library materials and services are not really free because they cost money to provide. Funding to libraries has been cut across the board, across much of the country, at a time when their services are needed most.
I realize I have not given you any facts and figures to back up my claims. But these facts and figures are available, and I suspect that if this letter peaks your interest, then you will find out for yourself, which is one of your strengths. One thing you can do easily is to visit your own local public library. Talk to the librarians and staff. Talk to the users. Ask them why they’re there. Find out what happens in that building that houses an institution we all take for granted as a cornerstone of our democratic society but one that may fade away in a future where it is assumed that the library has nothing to offer that can’t be found more easily and more quickly elsewhere.
What can be found at libraries that cannot be found more easily and quickly elsewhere? A dedicated effort to make freely available to everyone who comes looking all of the riches that can be found in learning from others’ stories and in creating and telling stories of our own.
I think you and libraries have a lot in common.