Pay­ing homage to pub­lic li­braries for help­ing us get through worst of pan­demic

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION -

As stores and of­fices around the area shut down dur­ing Illi­nois’ shel­ter-in-place or­der, one build­ing in my small sub­ur­ban town re­mained busy: the li­brary.

Pa­trons couldn’t en­ter the build­ing, but our li­brary staff made sure all of the res­i­dents were still be­ing served. They moved their wi-fi router so kids do­ing e-learn­ing and peo­ple look­ing for jobs could ac­cess the in­ter­net from the park­ing lot. They set up a makeshift food pantry on the front side­walk. They or­ga­nized curb­side de­liv­ery and stepped up dig­i­tal book of­fer­ings. They moved story time and yoga classes on­line.

This is just a small sam­ple of how li­braries around Chicagolan­d have served their com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing the pan­demic. As we saw here in Wood­stock, a well-run li­brary pro­vides re­sources peo­ple need to man­age a cri­sis in the short term. Per­haps more im­por­tantly, though, a li­brary cre­ates the kind of con­nec­tions in a com­mu­nity that keep it healthy and vi­brant in the long term.

So­ci­ol­o­gist Eric Kli­nen­berg has called this “so­cial in­fra­struc­ture” — pub­lic and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions that fos­ter a sense of com­mu­nity. His re­search has shown that strong so­cial in­fra­struc­ture cre­ates com­mu­ni­ties that are so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally vi­brant, with cit­i­zens who are ac­tive and en­gaged. Those com­mu­ni­ties also tend to be safer, health­ier, and more re­silient in dis­as­ters.

Our li­braries are an in­vest­ment in com­mu­nity, in the in­di­vid­u­als who live there and the so­cial fab­ric that holds them to­gether. They are essen­tial ser­vices. We need them to sur­vive and thrive.

The Wood­stock li­brary and hun­dreds of oth­ers in the re­gion have proven dur­ing this pan­demic that so­cial in­fra­struc­ture is a sound in­vest­ment.

Jes­sica Campbell, Wood­stock

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