| Diane Kaplan
Who doesn't love the library? Apparently, not many of us,
according to a recent report from the
Pew Trust, which classified people by their degree of engagement with
libraries. It found that 69 percent of the population are actively engaged
while just 14 percent of the population aren't engaged at all. Count us among
the highly engaged.
I practically grew up inside my local library in Brooklyn, New
York, as did my husband in his in Seward. One recent day it seemed everywhere I
looked there was news about public libraries. Browsing on the net, I stumbled
on a wonderful video, Why Libraries Matter: A day in
the life of New York City's public libraries. Later that morning, the local
paper carried a small announcement about the opening of the new library in
Togiak, a project funded in part by a grant from the Foundation.
The Foundation has a long history of supporting public
libraries. A search of our awards database came up with more than 100 awards totaling
more than $15 million among 38 communities. Yes, Rasmuson Foundation loves
Last January, I attended the grand opening celebration of the Joyce K. Carver Memorial
Soldotna Public Library. The Foundation had provided a direct grant
of $395,000 and a challenge grant of $100,000. The whole project cost $6.9
million. The expansion and improvements include contemporary media and
communication tools for youth, expanded computer and Internet access, enclosed
study spaces and expanded community meeting spaces.
Two links struck me at the community celebration: one between
philanthropy and freedom of speech; the other between a community and its
What is free speech without knowledge to inform it? To me,
public libraries embody, celebrate and feed free speech. Public libraries offer
full and open access to the wide world of thought, exploration, ideas, culture,
entertainment - all forms of knowledge. And in this country, philanthropy historically
has been an important player in the support and proliferation of public
The self-taught industrialist Andrew Carnegie had the biggest
influence in financing libraries in the U.S. From 1900 to 1917, Carnegie's
foundation built nearly 1,700 libraries, on condition that local communities
guarantee tax support to maintain them.
But you don't have to be a Carnegie to be a library
philanthropist. That was delightfully obvious in the deep and broad community
support for the Carver Memorial Soldotna Public Library. Dave Carey, a former
Soldotna mayor and former president of Friends of the Library, composed a poem
for the occasion, prefaced by inspiring remarks. See them here.
"It's very much a community library," Carey said. "It's part of
our identity and humanizes who we are."
Rasmuson Foundation is proud to support such a vital and vibrant
(This piece originally appeared on the Rasmuson Foundation blog on 06/24/2014 .)