Kaupo Meiel: Crisis solutions available at the local library
To mark the start of the Year of Libraries, I would like to wish all Estonian libraries that which matters most – people, readers – as many foolish decisions would go unmade if those making them would read a book instead, Kaupo Meiel finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
The Ministry of Culture has dubbed 2022 the Year of Libraries, which basically means that over the next 12 months, more attention will be paid to libraries as community, cultural and literature centers as well as libraries on wheels. The year's end will see a discussion on the future of libraries.
In summary, the year should bring libraries closer to the people. And it seems we are off to a promising start. An acquaintance of mine recently visited the library for the first time and liked it! While they did not take out a book and were content to simply take a look around, they reported being pleasantly surprised that such a place actually exists.
Of course, the concept of libraries is hardly in tune with modern trends. I imagine that if libraries didn't exist, creating them from scratch would be incredibly difficult. One does not simply propose to the Riigikogu and the government creating 900 public institutions that would give out free books to the wealthy and the poor alike on the taxpayer's dime – all expenses, no gain.
The coalition would immediately fall out over whether showering everyone equally in fiction and non-fiction is the right solution, whether books also help disseminate harmful ideas and the general place of libraries in market economy. The ensuing debates would result in a lot of headbutting, umbrage, reconciliation and apologies, perhaps unto the coalition collapsing and a proposal to put the matter of libraries up for referendum.
Luckily, we do not have to look forward to anything of the sort because libraries not only exist but are in constant development. Libraries have long since become much more than places where you can borrow and read books. For example, the library in Paikuse has a sewing room. While it might seem weird at first, sewing is actually a meditative and instructive activity, much like reading.
It is impossible to predict to which extent the nationwide thematic year will manage to boost the popularity of libraries. While we can hope, libraries would do well to take a look first in the mirror and then to the future themselves.
For me, every year has been a year of libraries since I was a young boy and accompanied by father to our local one. At first, I reached for children's books before graduating to the ones my father borrowed and eventually being able to go to the library all by myself. I still can.
Libraries have several advantages over bookstores, even though I must admit I have not completely shaken off the latter sin either.
Borrowing a book exempts one from having to shelve it at home, especially if one's abode cannot possibly fit another bookcase. It also helps save money that can be used to pay electricity and heating bills. It is also not mandatory to finish a borrowed book that can simply be returned early, while an unfinished book one has paid for will sit on the shelf like a living reproach.
It is possible to go to the library for books, games, musical instruments, exhibitions and a hundred other things these days, including needlepoint and why not carpentry in the future. Therefore, if you feel like going somewhere but don't know where, you can always go to the library, especially if the power company switches off your electricity and heating at home. A library is always well-lit and warm.
Director of the University of Tartu Library Krista Aru said that the library is the most democratic institution of all where no one checks your papers on the door or asks whether you have any business there. Indeed, while our democracy might not be worth much elsewhere, it does work in libraries.
I once hosted a librarians' conference and shamelessly introduced myself as the most important person in the room: the reader. I would like to wish all Estonian libraries strength and luck for the upcoming year but most of all that they would have enough of the most important resource – readers – as many foolish decisions would go unmade if those making them would read a book or work on creating a seamless society in a library's sewing room instead.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski