National Library Week 2014 – Lives Change @ Your Library

New York Public Library with the Splendor of the Word BannerHave you visited your local public library recently? National Library Week, April 13th-19th, 2014, is a good time to check it out, literally. Lives Change @ Your Library® is an apt theme.

Today, even non-readers will find plenty of interest at the library. In addition to the usual paper books, magazines, and newspapers, library goers will find movie DVDs, music CDs, e-books, Internet access, and job search services.

Today’s tech-savvy librarians assist people with finding what they’re looking for, answer questions on a wide variety of topics, and help people of all ages and skills navigate computers and the Internet.

Library services are available to everyone for free. Well, sort of. Public libraries are taxpayer funded institutions (mostly local and state tax dollars), so they are not free, per se. However, library patrons generally do not pay for services except things like late fees or to cover shipping costs for materials from reciprocating libraries.

“More than ever, libraries are community hubs, and it is the librarian who works to maintain a safe harbor for teens, a point of contact for the elderly, and a place to nurture lifelong learning for all.”

—Maureen Sullivan (former president, American Library Association)

Libraries are Green

Long before green became an environmental buzzword, libraries have been masters at the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Library Interior with Bookshelves and StairsLibraries practice reduction up front by purchasing one copy or sometimes more of an item for library patrons to share. These books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, and CDs are read or viewed over and over again, indefinitely. Depending on the item, it may last for years, decades, or even longer.

When an item reaches the end of its useful life at the library, it may get a second life via donation or a library sale before eventually being recycled (yes, DVDs and CDs too).

By providing technology hubs, libraries enable a lot of different people to use the same equipment.

Libraries provide an ideal setting for people to explore and learn about green topics, such as climate change, green building, garbage, green living, and eco-friendly business practices, to name a few.

Public Library Facts

While reading about National Library Week and public libraries, I picked up a few interesting tidbits of information.

  • Library of Congress Reading RoomBenjamin Franklin helped found the first subscription library in 1731.2
  • The Library of Congress, founded in 1800 to serve the U.S. Congress, is the largest library in the world (by number of items).3
  • In 1883, the Peterborough, New Hampshire Town Library became the first free taxpayer supported library in the U.S. 2
  • Andrew Carnegie sometimes referred to as the “Patron Saint of Libraries”, funded construction of 1,679 U.S. libraries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.4
  • In 2010, public libraries served 96.4% of the U.S. population via 8,957 libraries and 17,078 branches and bookmobiles.1
  • Public libraries circulated 2.46 billion materials in 2010.1
  • 53% of Americans polled in 2011 said they had visited a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months.1
  • People Using Computers at the Library62% of public libraries report they are the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities.1
  • Public libraries cost $35.81 per capita per year – about the cost of one hardcover book.5
  • More than 92% of public libraries offer services for job seekers.5

Visit Your Local Public Library and Find Out What’s New

Public libraries vary in size, accouterments, and services but they all have the same mission to connect people to reading and learning.

Soon after moving to a small town of about 6,000 people on the California Central Coast, I noticed the county library branch during a walk around town. It was housed in a tiny building (probably less than 2,500 square feet) and within easy walking distance of our house.

I went in and looked around which didn’t take long. I noticed a kid’s area, a section of DVDs and CDs, an area for large print books, a variety of magazines, and a couple of computer stations. The general bookshelves seemed to hold a small but respectable collection of books on a wide variety of subjects. Fiction books were housed in low 3-shelf bookcases with suggested books displayed on the top.

The library was doing a booming business with people looking for books, reading newspapers, typing away at the computers, perusing the digital media section, and checking out materials. I stepped up to the checkout desk and applied for a library card.

One of the librarians gave me the rundown on library hours and services. I learned that for $1.00 per item, I could request library materials from not only other county library branches but also branches in nearby counties that belonged to the regional cooperative library system. Cool. Odd, it had never occurred to me that I might able to borrow books beyond the local branch.

As it turned out, I am a frequent user of the cooperative library system. When I stumble across a book online or while reading another book or when someone recommends a book, I look for it on the online library system which gives a synopsis of the book, shows how many copies are in the system and where, and the dates checked out books are due back. I put it on my wishlist for future reference or make a request. When the book arrives at my branch, I receive an email then I go in pay a buck and check out the book.

Story Time at the LibraryAfter a decades-long fundraising effort spearheaded by the Friends of the Library group, our town raised enough money to purchase and outfit a new library (the county paid half) about twice as big as the old one. The new library opened in December with more space for books, digital media, and computer stations, comfy well-lit reading areas, and room for the Friends of the Library to accept and sell donated materials.

I learned that two-thirds of our residents are library cardholders and check out about 10,000 items a month, making our little library one of the busiest in the county.

So check out your own local public library. Chances are you’ll find something new, a great book to read, a movie DVD you’ve been wanting to watch, or a service you never knew existed.


  1. American Library Association – The State of America’s Libraries, 2013
  2. Wikipedia – Public Library
  3. Wikipedia – Library of Congress
  4. Carnegie Corporation of New York – Libraries
  5. American Library Association – Quotable Facts About America’s Libraries


Green Legislation — Lincoln Administration

President Abraham Lincoln - 1863
President Abraham Lincoln

Readers may, or may not, be surprised by some of the green legislation that was passed in the midst of the Civil War during President Abraham Lincoln’s Administration (1861-1865). I was.

In honor of President’s Day, initially I wanted to write about which were the “greenest” presidents. I quickly realized although there are records of legislation, executive orders, and presidential proclamations that occurred during each president’s tenure, documentation about presidential environmental beliefs and specific actions is more difficult to ascertain, especially for the earlier presidents. In addition, some of the environmental accomplishments they are known for, occurred before or after they left the presidency.

So I decided to select several presidents and write a series of posts about green legislation that was enacted during their tenure, starting with President Abraham Lincoln.

Agricultural Act of 1862

The Agricultural Act of 1862, entitled, “An Act to Establish a Department of Agriculture”, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 15, 1862. This act established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Seal of U.S. Department of AgricultureAt that time, more people were engaged in farming than any other occupation. The original purpose of the USDA was to acquire and disseminate agricultural information to help farmers maximize the productivity of their land and farms, and to collect and distribute valuable seeds and plants. The USDA began with two employees, the Commissioner of Agriculture and a clerk.

Over the past 150 years, the USDA has expanded it’s staff and services to include marketing, inspection, food safety, nutrition, risk management, and encompasses the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Morrill Act of 1862 (Land-Grant Colleges)

Originally vetoed by President James Buchanan, the Morrill Act of 1862, officially titled “An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts”, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 8162.

Vermont Congressman, Justin Smith Morrill, sponsored the bill whose purpose was “…to establish at least one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught…”.

Under the Morrill Act of 1862, Union states and territories received federal land grants to use as grounds for a college or sold and the proceeds used to found a college elsewhere. Thus the term land-grant college. After the Civil War, the Act was extended to include former Confederate states and eventually to every state, including those created after 1862.

Kansas State Agricultural College - 1914
Kansas State Agricultural College

The Morrill Act of 1862 created a foundation for public secondary education in the United States. The first land-grant college was Kansas State University, originally named Kansas State Agricultural College, founded on February 16, 1863. There are currently 76 land-grant institutions. With 7 billion people and counting in the world to feed, U.S. land-grant colleges will continue to play an important role in agricultural education, research, and innovation.

Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove Grant Act of 1864

On June 30, 1864, President Lincoln signed legislation that granted Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove of giant sequoias to California “ upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation”.

Galen Clark, John Muir, and California Senator, John Conness, were influential in promoting the bill. It was the first time the federal government had set aside land to be protected for the enjoyment of the public, thus setting the stage for the later development of the national park system.

In 1890, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. California retained control of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove until a bill signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 returned it to the federal government.

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley – Photo: Christine White Loberg

Yosemite is world-famous for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoias, biodiversity, and vast wilderness area. Yosemite provides a beautiful place for people from all over the world to learn about and connect with the natural environment.