Libraries are like the post office. Everyone says they're outmoded, old fashioned and made obsolete by the digital revolution.
And yet every time I go to one I have to wait in line.
As I write this I'm sitting in the fiction section of Weber County's main library. I can swivel my head and see half a dozen people reading books, looking for books, carrying books or talking about books. Right over there, on the sofa, a man and two children sit huddled over a book.
A steady buzz of conversation comes from the librarians' desk. One is sorting books for the adult education program. Another is explaining to a new volunteer which books to use for the tutoring program. Students with back packs walk by carrying books. A woman with ear buds slouches amid the stacks, pondering spines.
Despite predictions of imminent demise, use of the libraries in Weber County is rising, an average of 9 percent a year. This is because a library is more than just a book storehouse. It's a place of learning, discovery, interaction and community togetherness.
It's impossible to list, here, everything our libraries do for us. Think someone should learn English? They can at the library.
Want to learn computers? They've got a class. Feel a need for origami, zumba, chess, a free movie or just a good story? All are available.
For those doing genealogy or history research, the library has the best computer access to Utah newspaper databases in the state. How good? When people called the Standard-Examiner to find old stories, I sent them to the library.
There's always a line to use those computers, too.
Want to read a book you aren't supposed to? Libraries are the nations fiercest opponents of censorship and government meddling in private reading habits. That includes attempts to access your reading records under the so-called "Patriot Act."
Just want a book? As I sit I can see treasures of mystery, adventure or crime. Although I don't use them, eBooks are here too. A rack of videos is out front. Books on tape line the wall.
But freedom, of course, is not free. Libraries don't just show up.
Weber County's is the direct descendent of a $25,000 gift from steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie in 1901. Carnegie built his fortune on the backs of underpaid and abused workers. He called in troops to shoot them when they dared strike for a living wage.
In his old age Carnegie felt bad about that and built libraries to make up. He wanted everyone, rich or poor, to have a shot at learning and culture.
Ogden's council voted unanimously to accept Carnegie's offer. A library then, as now, was a sign a community is serious about education, growth and development. Ogden appropriated land and $2,500 a year to build and operate the library.
There are those who say "That's my tax money. Why should I pay for someone else?"
The answer is, "it is your own self interest."
Thomas Jefferson said public education was the best way to insure freedom and democracy. You don't stop learning the day you leave school, so communities extended that thinking and built public libraries where adults, too, could learn.
Carnegie's library in Ogden, now run by the county, has expanded and grown, but public demand is wearing it out, crowding and overwhelming it. The North Ogden branch is too small. The Huntsville branch needs more parking. Roy's needs to be replaced with something three times as large.
The main library building in Ogden is in serious need of infrastructure upgrades. That means we all really need to approve the $45 million bond election that arrived in the mail last week.
That sounds like a lot, but it works out to less than $3 a month for most of us. That's the power of numbers. If we're serious about building and improving our communities, educating our people, driving crime from central cities and attracting growth and development, we need to repair our libraries, expand them, improve them.
And, yeah, and hire more librarians. Then the lines won't be so long.
Charles Trentelman, of Ogden, is a former columnist at the Standard-Examiner.