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Among the many benefits that supporters list when they offer the reasons why they support the ballot question to expand the Buena Vista Library (otherwise known as the Northern Chaffee County Library District) is that it is not just a community institution — it is a much-loved institution.

Ark Valley Voice agrees with all the reasons that people have come up with to vote yes on Ballot question 6A to fund its expansion:

  • Public libraries are a public good.
  • Current programming and both current and future needs far outpace the capabilities of the current facilities.
  • The footings of the current structure were wisely and cost-efficiently planned to support a second floor when it should become necessary at some point in the future. That point is now.
  • The library district has done its homework, and communicated honestly and directly with the community about the need, the planning, the costs, and the timetable.

But there is another reason that Ark Valley Voice (AVV), as the news arm of the Truth Has a Voice Foundation is endorsing Ballot Question 6A to fund the library expansion. Literacy, and an educated and informed public capable of acting as productive citizenry fulfilling our responsibilities in this democracy, is directly related to our mission to “Give Truth a Voice.”

To be literate is not just to be able to read, but to understand what we read and write. It is the ability to think through issues, to sort out facts from fiction, to decide for ourselves based on the facts, what we believe. It is the ability to represent our thoughts and opinions based upon that knowledge, instead of having other’s opinions or beliefs foisted on us.

According to the Brookings Institute, public libraries build healthy communities. Public libraries let thought and expression, diverse opinions, and unfamiliar viewpoints flourish in an environment that exists for knowledge’s sake. They make our country and our communities richer for that knowledge.

But these days, public libraries do more than ever. Libraries don’t just provide free access to books and other cultural materials, they also offer things like companionship for older adults, de facto childcare for busy parents, language instruction for English as a second language speakers, and early childhood literacy programming. These days they are sometimes the front line in the nation’s opioid epidemic, as well as the host location for classes on everything from mental health, to prenatal support, and much more.

Then there is this. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, libraries are the last free public spaces in America:

“There aren’t many truly public places left in America. Most of our shared spaces require money or a certain social status to access. Malls exist to sell people things. Museums discourage loiterers. Coffee shops expect patrons to purchase a drink or snack if they want to enjoy the premises.”

“One place, though, remains open to everybody. The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that include books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.”

One final point about why AVV is endorsing 6A. Public libraries, together with our public school system, are bulwarks of democracy. According to the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLAI):

“Libraries’ mission to ensure equitable access to information, knowledge, and skills-building opportunities, a commitment to intellectual freedom and an open and welcoming gathering place – all these traits equip libraries with the potential to be a unique tool for democracy, empowering communities and informed decision-making.”

Ark Valley Voice agrees with that conclusion.

Editor’s note: For those readers who might welcome some heavier reading on the subject of libraries and democracy, the provides this overview of “Libraries, Policies and Politics in a Democracy.” JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.