We hear it all the time–follow your passion. What are you passionate about? I would argue that while it’s not always possible to make a living from your passion, it is always possible to follow it to some degree.

When I think about the things I am passionate about, my list looks something like this-

  • Family. Always. Above all else.
  • Cooking. Because cooking is mostly about family, for me.
  • Writing. This blog, right now, but other things, too, someday.
  • Movies. There’s nothing like getting lost in a good movie.
  • Books. A great book is better than a great movie, but I am more passionate about the movies I love than the books I love.
  • Wine. I like discovering new and satisfying varieties/vintages. I try to like red because I think I should, but I really enjoy white.

Nope. Libraries is not on my list. I’m not passionate about libraries. Not exactly, anyway.

Yes. I work for a library system, and I’m passionate about doing the best at my job that I can do. Yes. I believe fervently that a public library belongs in every community. I believe in the concept of the public library. I believe in its mission. I believe that a good public library levels the playing ground. I believe that a library is the center of an academic community. I believe that a library with librarians belongs in every elementary and secondary school. But am I passionate about libraries? Well, yes and no.

I am not a regular library user. I don’t really know why, but I am not. If the library in my community would be gone tomorrow, I, personally, would not feel a void (at least not right away) because I don’t often have occasion to use it.

But here’s the thing about libraries: They don’t exist because everyone uses them. The truth is that not everyone needs them. They exist because the people who use them and need them would miss them if they were gone. They exist because they bridge a gap. They exist because sometimes they mean the difference between knowing and not knowing or having and not having. A library is a cultural center of sorts in a community. It represents a respect for knowledge, access to information, and a place to go and belong and be safe. And those people who don’t use them or need them regularly? Well, if they suddenly find themselves with a need, libraries are there for them, too. And I would argue that some of the same people who think they don’t have a need for libraries are not particularly well informed as to everything that libraries offer.

I don’t cook everything there is to cook. I don’t write about everything there is to write about. I don’t see every movie or read every book. But just because I don’t have a use for certain recipes or books or movies doesn’t mean that somebody else is not passionate about them. Sometimes the things we discard or disregard are the things that others cannot live without.

A library contains something that represents almost everyone’s passions. What other public institution is dedicated to filling that kind of need? Sure. Maybe you can find what you’re looking for online (if you have a computer and internet access). The internet and the Web represents the world community. That’s a good thing, too.

But the library in your own community is there, specifically, to ignite and inform the passions of its residents. Why else do people go there? Yes, they go there to use the computers or check out books or DVDs. They go there to attend programs or take their children to story hours. They go there to search for and apply for jobs. Libraries exist for very practical reasons. But libraries exist to represent an ideology, too–the idea that everyone, regardless of station in life, education, or economic status, should have a place to go to try to find what they need, whether that need is derived from practicality or from passion.

I can’t think of a better use for public funds in a civilized society. If you need further convincing, check out this article for nine good reasons why public libraries are a good investment for any community. This article is filled with links to the facts and figures that offer proof, if that’s what you’re looking for.

This blog post is simply filled with passion, which doesn’t prove anything. Except maybe that it sometimes is possible and makes sense to be passionate about something just because it matters even though it doesn’t matter to you personally.

And if the library in my community were gone tomorrow, what I would miss is this: knowing that my community cares enough to support the existence of something not everybody uses or needs but that everybody can use should they have the need or the desire to follow their passion.