The Complicated Role of the Modern Public Library: Something for everyone

There aren’t many truly public places left in America. Most of our shared spaces require money or a certain social status to access. Malls exist to sell people things. Museums discourage loiterers. Coffee shops expect patrons to purchase a drink or snack if they want to enjoy the premises.

reading at library

Pratt Library President and CEO Heidi Daniel reads at story time.
—Enoch Pratt Free Library


Nurse Daniel Lopez takes the blood pressure of homeless man, Jim Truitt.
—© Pima County Public Library

One place, though, remains open to everybody. The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that includes books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.

That commitment to inclusivity, along with a persistent ability to adapt to changing times, has kept public libraries vital in an era of divisive politics and disruptive technological change. But it has also put pressure on them to be all things to all people, and to meet a vast range of social needs without correspondingly vast budgets.

Read the rest of the article on Humanities: The Magazine of the NEH.

Why are Books That Shape? From Codices to Kindles, Why This Rectangle Stays Golden

Anyone who has ever tried to organize their bookshelves can tell you that books are not a standard size. In fact, even books that fall under the same category (mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks, hardcovers) can vary wildly. It makes a perfectly matched shelf very difficult.

Despite all of those different sizes, though, almost all books have a certain proportion. From books that could hang off your keychain to dictionaries you can hardly lift, they are almost always rectangles taller than they are wide, at around the same proportions (width:height of about 5:8). And this isn’t a new invention of mass printing: according to The Book by Keith Houston, the oldest books in the world have about the same proportions, though they were often slightly taller than our books now.

Why is that?

Read the whole article at Book Riot to find out.

Do you know about the “Great Book Scare”?

When the Public Feared That Library Books Could Spread Deadly Diseases

“The great book scare” created a panic that you could catch an infection just by lending from the library

Dusty Book

At the height of the book scare, news outlets reported that dust from library books could spread infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox and scarlet fever. (kevron2001 / iStock)

On September 12, 1895, a Nebraskan named Jessie Allan died of tuberculosis. Such deaths were a common occurrence at the turn of the 20th century, but Allan’s case of “consumption” reportedly came from an unusual source. She was a librarian at the Omaha Public Library, and thanks to a common fear of the time, people worried that Allan’s terminal illness may have come from a book.


English Is Weird: Why is it called a “library”?

Why specifically that word, I mean. Library.

Most western languages, be they Romance, Germanic, Hellenic or Slavic, use a word based on the Greek biblio (meaning “book”) and theke ( meaning “container, “receptacle” and/or “collection”). Makes total sense, right? Even the Latin-speaking Romans borrowed the word from the Greeks (along with their land, religion, art and various aspects of their architecture and culture, but that’s a topic for another time).

Bosnian – biblioteka
Danish – bibliotek
Dutch – bibliotheek
French – bibliothèque
German – Bibliothek
Greek – βιβλιοθήκη (bibliothíki)
Italian – biblioteca
Latin – bibliotheca
Latvian – bibliotēka
Lithuanian – biblioteka
Macedonian – библиотека (biblioteka)
Norwegian – bibliotek
Polish – biblioteka
Portuguese – biblioteca
Romanian – bibliotecă
Russian – библиотека (biblioteka)
Serbian – библиотека (biblioteka)
Spanish – biblioteca
Swedish – bibliotek
Ukrainian – бібліотека (biblioteka)

Short answer for busy people: English has a complicated history.

Snarky answer for people that have traumatic flashbacks to English class: English wouldn’t be English if it didn’t make everything more difficult than necessary.

Actual answer for the genuinely curious: So… England (where modern English comes from), for being a relatively small island within conquering distance, has been pretty good at repelling invasions throughout much of its history; at least for the last thousand years or so. Before that it was a bit more touch and go.

In the 5th century, when the Romans (who took the island from the Celts about 400 years earlier… who had themselves taken the island from an earlier culture 400 or 500 years before that) bailed due to problems at home, and because 400 years of English weather and angry Celts throwing spears at you would get to anyone, the Anglo-Saxons were there to take advantage of the power vacuum. They brought the Anglo-Saxon language from their original home in what is now northern Germany with them to the island (Anglo-land, Angland, England, English). That’s why English is a Germanic language. But we’re not done with invasions yet! Then this guy named William the Conqueror (guess what he was good at) showed up in 1066 from what is now northern France with a bunch of guys that speak French.

So French became the language of the ruling class but it didn’t push out the existing Germanic Old English (Anglo-Saxon) language, it just layered over the top of it and added a ton of Old French (Romance language) words to a Germanic language (just one of the reasons English is a weird as it is). One of those words was librairie (meaning “a collection of books” or “a bookseller’s shop”)!

We’re in the homestretch now, I promise. 

The weird thing is that librairie was an Old French word that came from librarium, the Latin word for “chest of books” or “bookcase” (which is in turn from liber, Latin for “book”). You remember Latin, the language that took the Greek word for library, bibliotheke. So when Romance languages, that came from Latin, went looking for a word to mean “library” they kept the borrowed Greek word that meant “library” (go figure), but the Germanic language with romantic influences adopted a different Romantic word that meant “bookshop” and gradually changed it to mean “library”. There are, I’m sure, all sorts of cultural and historical reasons that would help explain why this might have happened but we won’t get into it here – I’m tired. Meanwhile, guess how to say “bookshop” in French. If you guessed librairie have a croissant!

Fascinating. And horribly convoluted. It makes you feel for anyone trying to learn English as a second language, doesn’t it?

5 Million? Really?

Did you know?

5.2 million programs were offered by public libraries in 2016. (Source: Institute of Museum and Library Services 2016 public libraries data.)

That’s a lot of free (or mostly free) entertainment/instruction/information!

No wonder Americans go the library 3 times as often as they go to the movies. For a list of the programs coming up at the Moline Public Library you can click here to see our events calendar.

For more interesting (and impressive) library facts check out the list on

Did you know?

We are everywhere!

By “We” I mean public libraries, of course.

Image result for public libraries Image result for public libraries Image result for public libraries

According to the American Library Association there are 16,568 public libraries (including branch locations) in the United States!

That’s more libraries than there are Starbucks! Than there are McDonald’s! More than all the KFCs, Taco Bells and Walmarts put together! 

According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, those 16,568 libraries serve over 297 million people, over 96% of the population! There are 3 libraries and 5.8 library outlets (branches, bookmobiles, etc.) for every 100,000 people.

It turns out we are a big part of life for a huge number of Americans. We’re just kind of quiet about it. Self-promotion is difficult when you have been quietly doing your job of providing free access to books, information, technology, services and educational, cultural and entertainment programming for the last couple of hundred years. We are working on it, but it is slow going.

The good news is that you can help. If you are one of those 297 million that we serve, and odds are good that your are, just keep us in mind. Remember us the next time you’re in line at Starbucks, and maybe make a note to let somebody know about how great the local library is.

It doesn’t matter where your are, there should be one nearby.