Who remembers the TV show “Cheers?”
The theme song’s chorus says, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.” I recently read the book “Palaces for the People: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life,” by Eric Klinenberg (New York: Crown, 2018). Klinenberg puts forth that “The future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces ...,” and recognizes that libraries are a key element to providing those connections to each other and our community.
Now, I know that the “Cheers” bar and the library aren’t exactly the same, but what do they have in common? A place where you feel comfortable, familiar and welcomed. Where you may be lonely, but you are never alone. That is social infrastructure.
While much of our time is expended online and using social media, actually spending time with others can break the cycle of loneliness. Getting to know other people, or even simply being in the proximity of others in a shared space, can help us feel more connected. People develop a sense of togetherness when we identify with our neighborhood places. At libraries, simply entering the building each morning with other regulars helps you feel a sense of belonging. Knowing that someone else is probably waiting for the copy of today’s paper you’ve been reading, and then returning it to its place, is not just a common courtesy – it is the recognition of community.
There are many ways in which you can experience social infrastructure at the library. In Durango, our programs for children are a great way for both the kids and the adults to connect. You can meet other parents, guardians and caregivers. You can share your struggles and joys with each other at storytime, forming potential friendships – or at least a sense of camaraderie! – that may have never been made without meeting at a children’s program. Teens can discover a place all their own, where they can socialize without the pressure of having to purchase something in order to simply sit down and just talk to each other. Adults can attend our board game night, ignoring their phones and playing games with other people who have similar interests or who are discovering something new.
Libraries are all about community. Bringing people together to explore new ideas, concepts and materials in a common space is what we do, day in and day out. Our programming, our materials and even the space in the building is designed to promote a sense of togetherness.
You can see how the concept of social infrastructure comes to life not just at the Durango Public Library and our branches but also in the initiatives of the city of Durango – character districts such as North Main, the “Civility First” program of the Community Relations Commission and the upkeep of parks, trails and natural lands. People thrive when their government invests in them through social infrastructure. That is why the library develops a robust collection that meets the many interests of our community, why we conduct programs with diverse topics for a variety of ages and why we keep our building neat and clean.
If it has been a while, maybe it is time for you to stop by Durango Public Library to connect with neighbors and strangers alike in a communal space that is meant to be shared with each other.
Check out “Palaces for the People” by Eric Klinenberg at Durango Public Library www.durangogov.org/Library. You can also learn more at this podcast: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/palaces-for-the-people/
Sandy Irwin is library director at Durango Public Library.