This article appeared in the July 22, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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When libraries feel the heat

Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Protesters gather outside The British Library to march against government cuts to the arts and public libraries, in London, November 3, 2018.

Welcome to the Monitor Daily. Today, we look at how a hard-line conservative base is reshaping British politics and offer key context for the escalating U.S.-Iran dispute. We’ve also got stories on the dangers of “hostage diplomacy,” the power of a unified electorate in Ukraine, and what’s behind the plummeting U.S. high school dropout rate.

But before we get to that:

Over the past very hot weekend, a lot of people sought refuge in ... the library.

Libraries are oases at such moments, extending hours and reminding people they’re as much a community center as a place to find titles. They’re more than a bunch of bookshelves.

That helps explain why emotions run high when libraries are repeatedly on budget chopping blocks, or it’s suggested library staff are optional. In North London, for example, protests have broken out over “open” libraries, which some 150 British communities are testing. Residents get keypad access to the building and checkout is self-service. It may be better than nothing – though there’s concern about safety – and flexibility is a plus. Yet there’s a “but” in that idea. ...

As the Monitor has regularly explored, libraries are often extolled for high participation rates, popularity with students, and being a resource for learning new skills, finding jobs, or accessing computers, particularly in lower-income communities. They may even provide housing. They’re associated with vitality and gratitude. Helsinki residents call their new central library the city’s “living room.”

Harvard public policy Professor Robert Putnam (“Bowling Alone”) calls that social capital, which he sees as essential to community well-being. So the next time you see librarians at work, ask them a question. Or visit during a heat wave. You can see if you agree.

This article appeared in the July 22, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/22 edition
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