I'll put the pretense of objectivity aside and admit that I'm a huge fan of libraries. Growing up, my town's library was a home-away-from-home. (I loved it so much it was a no-brainer that my first job ever, at age 14, was as a library page — a person who puts the books away.) Walking through the stacks, I would mentally wave to old friends like Jane Eyre, Danny Torrence and Laura Ingalls Wilder, while having the comforting thought that just as many other characters (who would shape my life) were waiting for me to find them. To this day I'm more comfortable surrounded by books than anything else; I find people with bookless homes quite suspicious.
So it wasn't surprising to me that a study from the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport that looked at data from 40,000 households found that "A significant association was ... found between frequent library use and reported well-being. Using libraries frequently was valued at £1,359 ($2,282) per person per year for library users, or £113 ($191) per person per month."
As NPR pointed out, that's equivalent to a yearly raise for many people.
Interestingly, the same study found that while both art programs and sports were valuable too, libraries were worth the most to people's happiness. The study reminds us that: "In each case the monetary well-being value is based on individuals’ own perceived value to themselves of engagement rather than a wider value to society."
Why do libraries make us happier?
These days, of course, libraries are much, much more than just a place where books are stored and borrowed. I use my library to check out DVDs, read paper issues of magazines, and get work done in a non-distracting environment with solid Internet (this is also a boon if you travel; I have spent time in Vermont and Oregon and libraries make ideal work environments for a writer). I also borrow plenty of books — including about half of those I read on my Kindle through electronic borrowing programs.
I also ask research questions of knowledgeable librarians — including about local history and current issues. When I moved to Connecticut a decade ago, the local librarians helped me find the best books to start with to get a grip on the long and complex history of my town. When I move to California in a few months, I can't imagine starting to learn about my new hometown any other way but the library information desk. And I've yet to use a library that doesn't have an active kids' reading program.
It's for all these reasons libraries bring such value to our lives and communities, I think. What about you? How do you use your library? How is it valuable to you in your life?
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