The Library: Where the Future Begins

by Bill Peak

One of the things I love about working at the library is the opportunity it gives me—pretty much daily—to peer over the threshold into tomorrow. Whether it's starting a new business, planning a wedding, finding the perfect blind site for this year's hunting season, building an addition to their house, learning English as a second language, or getting a statue of Frederick Douglass erected on the courthouse lawn, people with hopes for the future come to the library to learn, to strategize, and to achieve. It is the go-to place for people with a goal in mind, people who intend to accomplish a great deal with the resources available to them in our little neck of the woods (a part of the country that stands admittedly, but also blessedly, just a little ways off the beaten path). And in case you haven't noticed, when people in Talbot County set out to do something, they usually succeed. In this, I think, we share something in common with people living in rural areas all across America.

Before I got smart and moved to the Eastern Shore, I worked as a writer for an association in Washington that represented companies in a particularly influential national industry. Members of this association, as part of the federal licensing process, are required by law to provide a certain level of pro bono community service. One of my responsibilities with the association was to run an awards program that named and honored the industry's ten top community service efforts each year.

Now it happens that, before going to work for the association, I had run a non-profit human service organization myself, so I knew something about how difficult it can be—on a shoe-string budget—to set up and run a program that actually helps people. And again and again, reviewing the entries we received each year for these prestigious awards, I was struck by how often the programs run by huge companies making loads of money in major markets, though they looked impressive, in reality often didn't provide much more than a lot of self-congratulatory bells and whistles. While the programs run by smaller companies operating in rural areas on a fraction of the budget were often surprisingly well-thought-out, well-run, and effective. The people working in those companies seemed to really know and care about the communities they lived in.

Sound familiar? Over and over again, since moving to Talbot County, I have been impressed by how much people here are able to accomplish with just their minds and the resources ready to hand. For people such as this, the library is both engine and fuel: it is our public forum, our university, and our intellectual refuge all rolled into one.

At the height of its glory, the ancient city-state of Athens is estimated to have had a population of just 30,000 people. Talbot County has a population of 37,834. Does a modern-day Socrates walk our streets unnoticed? Is there an Aristophanes among us, a Sophocles, a Euclid, an Aristotle? If there is (and why shouldn't there be?), I think it's safe to assume you will find him or her among the quiet, happy patrons at the Talbot County Free Library.