One easy New Year's resolution to help save democracy in 2019: Go to the library

We can fight the ignorance and misinformation that breeds hate. And you can start at your local public library


Published January 1, 2019 11:00AM (EST)

Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library (Getty/Drew Angerer)
Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library (Getty/Drew Angerer)

Anthony W. Marx is president of the New York Public Library.

As we prepare to start a new chapter in 2019, there is no doubt that we are a society in crisis — a crisis that runs deep, is fracturing our nation, and generating the political disfunction that grabs headlines and monopolizes our attention.

Read the comments section of any article — literally, any article — and you see it. Nastiness. Disrespect. A willful resistance to discussion or debate. A complete, unwavering acceptance of any information that reinforces already-existing opinions.

Many in our great country aren’t listening. We aren’t vetting information. Our curiosity ends the moment that we discover information different than what we already believe. We don’t debate, We defriend. We are so convinced that we are right that we can’t tolerate an opposing thought.

This is unspeakably dangerous, and in direct opposition to the founding principles of our nation. We are meant to be a democracy of informed citizens, a country of curious people who feel a collective ownership over our future and joint responsibility to protect the values we are supposed to stand for: Inclusion. Acceptance. Discussion. Debate. Equality. Opportunity. Without those bonds and a commitment to establishing fact-based arguments and critiques of power, democracy itself is at risk.

So what can we do? While the world can seem so overwhelming and scary, I know that there’s hope, and it starts with each of us. We matter. If we are informed, if we stay curious, if we accept that we don’t know everything and embrace that we are a nation of wonderfully diverse perspectives, we can fight the ignorance and misinformation that breeds hate.

There are so many little things we can do in 2019. We can say hi to our neighbors. We can read a new newspaper or watch a different news channel. We can call our friend who votes a different color and have a real, meaningful discussion. We can listen. If we all did this and tried to understand each other just a little better, the world would be a better place.

And there’s one thing every American can do to get started—a very simple resolution that we can all commit to in 2019: We can go to our local libraries, get library cards, and start our journeys towards healing our democracy. You can meet your neighbors there. You can find books there. You can find librarians eager to point you towards credible, vetted information there. You can find your community there. Go. Visit. Introduce yourself to a librarian. Introduce yourself to a patron. Ask for a recommendation.

There are endless stats about the benefits of community interaction and reading for pleasure. I don’t need the stats: I see it every day, as I have the privilege of visiting various branches of The New York Public Library system. I see people proactively checking out books, reading, taking classes, and learning. People from all walks of life — all backgrounds, all income levels — sit together, learn together, help each other, and talk to each other. There are red neighborhoods and blue neighborhoods in the three New York City boroughs we serve. Everyone comes together with equal opportunity to access knowledge and information. Everything is free.

This is completely unique to public libraries. In an increasingly isolated world, where it’s so easy to criticize and disrespect others behind the anonymity of the internet, libraries are an oasis of calm and community — temples of knowledge that welcome everyone and are located in every neighborhood across the country.

We are at a moment in history, where if we can't sit together, if we can't learn about each other, if we can't respect each other, then we won’t have a democracy. The public library is quietly fighting to protect and maintain our democracy. We are in every neighborhood, on the front lines, ensuring an informed, learning and skilled citizenry. We take it seriously and we are proud of that role.

So in 2019, please, make a resolution to start a revolution against darkness and ignorance. It has already started — in our system, library card sign-ups are up more than 40 percent over last year. Research collection usage is up. So let’s keep it going. The fate of our nation depends on it.