Guest Column: Local families need a library

Farm Forum

Peter Ramey is assistant professor of English at Northern State University. He and his wife have four young children.

When visiting Aberdeen last spring for a prospective job, I noted with excitement all that the town would offer my young family: a water park, Storybook Land, several lush city parks and a network of biking paths. But I was also struck right away by the small, dingy, outdated public library. Why hadn’t the city built a more spacious and inviting facility, I wondered, especially one with a functioning children’s area? My host quickly reassured me: A new library was in the works.

Imagine my disappointment when I read the mayor’s comments indicating the possibility that the new library may never be built. In a northerly climate where winters are especially hard on families with young children, a warm and sizable library is simply indispensable. While Aberdeen offers young families numerous attractions in the warmer months, the long winters leave families with pre-school age children few options.

One year, and one long and dreary winter later, I have been puzzled by the lack of civic drive to see this building project through. What could be ailing us? The mayor appears noncommittal and resigned. Readers’ dismissive comments suggest that public libraries are obsolete or even undesirable.

As someone still new to the community, perhaps I can offer a fresh perspective.

It is sometimes assumed that libraries are merely a source of books. Libraries are not so much a place to obtain books as a space to enjoy them. They provide a warm and stimulating environment to play and learn, programs and educational activities and an area for families and individuals to interact. They are a vital respite for poor and underprivileged families.

To put it in local terms, the library is a Wylie Park for young minds, a playland for the imagination that is open winterlong. For all these reasons, libraries serve as a tangible statement of a city’s values and identity. Aberdeen’s proposed new library is a powerful vision of the future of our city, one attractive to those interested in moving here. Our current library, on the other hand, is a bit of an embarrassment to a city of our size.

What is desperately needed at this time is the leadership and vision to see this project through. Perhaps Mayor Levsen can provide this. One step would be to present the public with a compelling picture of the future library and the concrete steps needed to complete it.

Building a newer, larger and more attractive public library will not only benefit families, but everyone, even those who rarely visit the current library. A friend of mine recently remarked that he had not once set foot in the Aberdeen public library in the last 15 years. Considering the state of the present library building, this is understandable. People prefer to spend time in pleasant, warm, well-lit environments, and during the winter in Aberdeen, this is most often one’s own home.

A new library will bring families, individuals such as my friend, isolated elderly folks, teens and many others out of the winter isolation of their homes, and into the heart of Aberdeen.