In Erie’s Vital Signs for 2014, the Times News identified early learning as the “linchpin” for Erie’s long term success. The analysis is right on the mark, but I would even take that one step further.
What is the one characteristic shared by cities all over the world that have been identified as “the best places to live?” Hands-down, it’s that they collectively embrace education and learning—not just for the very young, but for everyone. People who live in the “best places” embrace ideas. Innovation, imagination, curiosity and creativity figure importantly into their lives.
The best places to live in the world—also hands down—have the best libraries. This is not surprising, as the vitality of the public library has always been one of more reliable measures of any region’s quality of life.
This year’s National Library Week runs from April 13 through the 19th, and features the theme “Lives change @ your library.”
We have good reason to celebrate the public libraries throughout Erie County. The numbers show that:
• Erie County library card holders number 150,000. More than half of all residents carry a library card.
• There were over 1 million visits to libraries last year.
• Annually Erie County residents borrow approximately 1.5 million items from our libraries.
• Another 150,000+ people will use a public library computer to do everything from browsing the Internet, to looking for a job, connecting through social media, researching a topic or writing a resume.
• Attendance at library programs, including the popular storytimes that build pre and early literacy skills is more than 25,000 annually. Attendance at other programs, meetings and events at Erie County libraries numbers thousands upon thousands more.
People come to our Libraries for many different reasons and purposes–whether to read, share, learn, participate, imagine, investigate or create. Libraries are a tool for encouraging curiosity about the world. Libraries are about the excitement of ideas, the thrill of creativity and the power of face to face, meaningful interaction between people of all ages.
At a time when people are increasingly isolated, communicating mostly in superficial bursts, libraries offer so much more. The true depth of the human spirit has always been found within our resources and facilities. More than anything else, libraries are about the possibilities in life—the power of every individual to define, invent or re-invent themselves, and then to share that with others.
At the Erie County Public Library this year, our focus is especially on kids and families, and about the power of participatory, hands-on, experiential learning. Just in the past month alone, for example, we have had capacity crowds attending animation classes by Jude Shingle of Box of Light studios. Kids and adults have worked side by side to create their own stop-action films. They have investigated and learned about Claymation, Found Art Animation, LEGO (Brick Film) Animation, and Cel Painting. The Library also offers many other programs, events and classes—everything from storytimes and free concerts to computer classes and lessons in Qi-gong.
And, oh, by the way, we still have books for you to browse and, ultimately, to lose yourself in them. Lots of ‘em. If you haven’t visited the Erie County Public Library lately, what are you waiting for?
Executive Director, Erie County Public Library