The library venue, a place where all belong

Last week the NorthEast-Millerton Library’s Annex on Century Boulevard was the setting for Expo ‘23, an exhibit that  focused on housing challenges for people of moderate incomes. The multi-day event attracted more than 50 attendees. Visitors came and lingered inside at the informational displays and talked with each other, sharing stories and ideas.  A few weeks earlier, the Pine Plains Free Library was the setting for a public hearing held by the town’s Planning Board. Approximately 60 residents attended the gathering — held in the library’s spacious Community Room on the second floor — to learn about a solar project proposed by a New York company near Pulver’s Corners. Before and after the hearing, small groups gathered on the side, talking among themselves, sharing  viewpoints on the controversial plan.

The plan by Sharon Hospital to shutter its labor and delivery operation and transform its ICU into a progressive care unit has been the subject of roundtables at several forums — held mostly in libraries.  In September, the Save Sharon Hospital (SSH) organization talked to the public at the Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury. In November, SSH held its meeting at Cornwall Library. Then twice in October and February, SSH held similar meetings in the Annex at NorthEast-Millerton Library. And at the Annex, just as it happened at the housing Expo and at the Pine Plains hearing,  residents stayed after the event  to take in an extra social moment of talk and thought — and connect.

There isn’t room in the columns of this newspaper to list all the ways that our libraries serve their communities by connecting people, promoting community spirit and advancing literacy. Town halls are where the business of governing gets done, but in many respects the town library serves the community in important ways.

Aside from catering to readers with books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, book clubs, movie streaming and a litany of online resources, they also serve as gathering places, social forums for all age groups.

There are 17 libraries in Litchfield County and 26 in Dutchess County. A partial list, besides the Scoville and Cornwall libraries, includes the Douglas Library in North Canaan, which marked its 200-year anniversary in 2021; the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon;  the Kent Memorial Library; the David M. Hunt Library in Falls Village; and the Norfolk Library. In eastern Dutchess County, besides the libraries in Millerton and Pine Plains, we have the Amenia Free Library, The Roeliff Jansen Community Library in Hillsdale/Copake, the Millbrook Library and the Stanford Free Library in Stanfordville.

The shared experience of sitting in a group with neighbors to learn something, to discuss it, to share thoughts and then to leave the event having interracted with people in the community—even if it’s a nod or a handshake—is edifying in ways that trace back to our earliest days. Some come without saying a word. Nevertheless, they are part of it.

Discussing hospital cutbacks or affordable housing or the potential impact of a solar project on a rural landscape is one thing, but think of the value of a story hour program for children, who come together at library events as young social beings to experience a movie, arts and crafts, story time, dog visits, or music sing-a-longs, to name a few. And have the common experience together. Belonging.

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