Public libraries seem to be more loved and appreciated than ever, as they offer more services to more people in the communities they serve. In this blog post, President and CEO Diane Kaplan ruminates connections between libraries and their communities, freedom of speech, and philanthropy.

Many in Soldotna came to celebrate the opening of the new library. In this photo, Senator Micciche makes opening remarks.

Many in Soldotna came to celebrate the opening of the new library. In this photo, Senator Micciche makes opening remarks.

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 libraries.

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 library.

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 libraries.

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 community asset.