The Norman Transcript


October 14, 2008

Today's public library


· Americans wanted access to books of local and personal interest. Our citizens took pride in the literature of America and wanted to have access to it and to preserve it.

· Humanitarian ideals meant a desire to lift up the underprivileged. Libraries were seen as a way to do that by offering an opportunity for education to the common man.

· The idea of self-education emerged. In the 19th century, for the first time, books were viewed as an effective means of technical education. This led to the public library as "the people's university."

· An element of civic pride also came into play. A community took pride in its public library and this encouraged the public's willingness to invest in it.

It's easy to forget that public libraries have been with us for a short time, not much more than 100 years. Before public libraries, there were personal and subscription libraries, yesterday's version of Barnes and Noble and Borders. Public support for libraries was a new concept at the turn of the last century, but it was an idea to which citizens quickly adapted.

In addition to public support, public library development benefited from philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie, in particular, saw the potential of the public library to be the center of learning in every community. He offered to build libraries if communities would contribute land, furnish money for annual maintenance, and exercise governance and oversight. Between 1881 and 1917, Carnegie invested what today would amount to $3 billion to build 1,689 libraries.

Today, nearly 90 percent of library funding comes from local public dollars. Oklahoma's public libraries are primarily organized as city libraries (88.4 percent). Of the rest, 6.3 percent are multi-county (Pioneer Library System is one of six multi-county systems) and 4.5 percent are county (Oklahoma County and Tulsa).

So, what is the return on your investment? What are your expectations for the public library?

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