In a world where information is available through countless accessible forms, it is easy to forget how recent our access to free information truly is. The first public library in the U.S. was established in 1833, only 186 years ago in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Who would have believed that seven generations later we’d be a country with 116,867 public libraries, not including the 37 of them on the University of Wisconsin’s campus alone?

Libraries allow us to access an almost endless supply of books, which is a good enough reason as any to keep them around. While books alone are a fabulous tool to publicly fund, there are more incredible benefits that libraries offer that are seldom acknowledged in our modern day lives.

For that reason, I’ve dedicated this article to our libraries, highlighting the sheer beauty they add to their communities, and to hopefully inspire you to take advantage of the shared privilege not all countries are fortunate enough to provide.

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Though few of us realize it, the simple presence of this kind of access is a huge step towards equality in terms of knowledge, literacy and humanity.

Librarians serve an important purpose here: guiding those who are searching for something greater toward a multitude of avenues that will hopefully help them to find it.

By understanding the ins and outs of their building’s resources, librarians make sure that everyday people can benefit from expansive wells of knowledge and technologies that would otherwise be reserved only for those who can afford it.

In addition to the books, magazines, newspapers, movies and technologies libraries hold, they also offer diverse kinds of community programming. The term community programming is vast: including everything from children’s activities to yoga classes, often times specifically planned to suit the needs of the community in which a particular library serves.

Our own public libraries here in Madison are hosting over 70 different free events for the public next week alone. Plenty of practical programs like “General Job Assistance” and “Basic Computer Help” are among those 70 events, but they barely summarize the range of ages and interests that Madison’s community programming offers.

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While those types of programs help to lift up our community in a fundamental way, there are also a lot of offerings that bring people together for the purpose of fun and enrichment. Some of the most exciting events of next week include reading with dogs, free movie screenings and a discussion group or club for virtually any type of interest such as Minecraft or Suminigashi.

In addition to the fabulous programming Madison Libraries offer, I want to point out that our public libraries have also earned a spot on the Nation’s Highest Museum and Library Honor top 10 list for their excellence in service and community building within the past few years. If you’ve ever walked past the newest of Madison’s public libraries on West Mifflin Street, you’ll understand why they’ve been considered the best in the sphere of public services.

The Central Library located in the heart of downtown is a place of jaw-dropping beauty and study spaces galore, even housing its very own cafe so you never have to leave. While UW’s campus has thousands of accommodating study spaces, there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of the West Mifflin Street library, encouraging mass productivity along with the creative appeal.

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There is much goodness within the walls of any library, and for many, they offer an escape from the cold or solace in the chaos. Everyone has the option to use one, but they can be especially beneficial for those working to make a better life for themselves and their families. In a country that can so easily feel riddled with strife and inequality, libraries provide all people a safe space to experience equality, encouraging powerful experiences through the presence and sharing of knowledge.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the many advantages we have because of our library access, but I hope you’re thinking about how incredibly lucky we are to be in their midst. In case you’re interested in getting involved at a library near you, I’ve included links below that feature the events calendar, library locations and a podcast by “This American Life” that delves further into all of the good libraries can do.

Library Events Calendar 

Madison Area Library Locations

More on Libraries brought to you by the podcast “This American Life”