Libraries – The Oasis in the Desert

By Amber Mathewson

Here we are in the middle of summer in Arizona, having just survived record-breaking heat throughout the state. Perhaps because I just returned from a lovely, COOL vacation in the Rocky Mountains, I was thinking about an oasis retreat – reminding me that libraries truly are an oasis in so many ways.  People come to our facilities from every walk of life and no matter the type of library in which you serve, your presence and service provides that welcome respite from so many of life’s deserts.

At the Pima County Public Library, we have recently begun to look at some of the ways that we are an oasis. For instance, we had not realized that in creating vibrant, active community centers that allow for self and group exploration and discovery, we had taken away a very important aspect of our brand. Quiet. One of the most often received complaints is that public libraries are no longer quiet places of refuge for thought. In setting aside seemingly antiquated rules, we had taken away something that many are looking for in our society; a place to unwind, be quiet, read, think, write and work. We are looking for ways to carve out spaces that are more serene and available when customers need a moment to pull back from the fast pace of life and information.

Around the country I am reading about libraries that host discussion groups where individuals can have civil discourse, especially in this year of political and social unrest. I am proud that our public, private, university, special and tribal librarians celebrate diversity every day by providing welcoming spaces to all in our communities, and came out in strong support of our LGBTQ community at the recent ALA Conference in Orlando. Time after time we hear authors, celebrities, and successful professionals who say that a library or a librarian made a difference in their life by creating that safe, encouraging, supportive place.

Libraries truly are an oasis as cooling centers for individuals who might otherwise be spending their days out in the Arizona heat. The great joy is that no matter what aspect of the library oasis individuals are seeking, there is something here for them AND it is not a mirage!  Free and open access to information in and of itself is an oasis. A place to dream, to learn, to be inspired, to feel safe, to take the next step in the journey of life, that is the space that each of you hold for those in your community.

Amber Mathewson is AzLA President, and Deputy Director, Pima County Public Library.

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