Opinion | Thankful for Libraries

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But particularly for these kinds of people, living in rural areas, libraries can be an incredible tool. When I was a senior in high school, I won my way to the International Science and Engineering Fair. That year, 1988, it was being held in Knoxville, Tenn. It was the first time I would fly and the first time I would travel far from home.

Determined not to expose myself as a hick, I went to the library in Arcadia and checked out every book of etiquette on the shelves. They were familiar to me, reference books, books of rules that in my mind were the only thing separating me from the appearance of refinement and sophistication. I devoured those books.

I guess you could say that now, all that information can be found online, but high-speed broadband is not as ubiquitous as you might think. In 2019, the Pew Charitable Trusts explained that the number of Americans without broadband “could be over 163 million,” and that included 40 percent of schools and 44 percent of adults in households with incomes below $30,000.

I must applaud Joe Biden’s administration for using billions of dollars of American Rescue Plan funding to help close this digital divide, but for those who still lack high-speed internet, it is libraries that help fill in the gap.

Again in college, it was in libraries that I found myself, not only physically but spiritually. It was in books in the college library that I first saw and read about openly queer people, that I first read about the Stonewall Riots and the gay rights movement. The books were stored in a corner of the library that almost no one seemed to visit, but I went there often.

In the stacks, I learned that my difference wasn’t anomalous. Up to that point, even in college, I had never met a person who was openly queer.

And years ago, when I was writing my first book, I found myself in the main branch of New York City’s public library not because I needed to do research — the book was a memoir — but because the space itself seemed most aligned with the task of writing. It was like going to church to pray.

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