A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: With a little help from their friends, libraries continue to improve communities

Like most friends of public libraries, Wayne Onkst is an unabashed bibliophile. As an author, historian, and advocate for literacy, he is proud of Kentucky libraries.

“Kentucky has done a good job of establishing a statewide system,” he said.

“In 1950, the legislature passed a law that provided for the neutrality of libraries, outside of county government,” he explained, also mentioning the importance of state support for the construction of libraries from Pikeville to Paducah.

With a distinguished, 36-year career of serving the public in advancing library services throughout Kentucky, Wayne recently retired after serving as state librarian and commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

On Sunday, September 15, from 2-4 pm., Wayne Onkst will be the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Friends of Calloway County Public Library. He will be sharing his insights regarding libraries, past, present and future.

The world of libraries has changed considerably since 1972, when he took his first library job as a shelver at the Laurel County Public Library. “Libraries were books, but now we have completely changed,” he said.

“People don’t read as many books now,” he admitted, “but they are accessing information in different ways. Nothing is like it was. Technology has transformed the way libraries do business.”

What hasn’t changed is that information is the currency of democracy, and libraries offer a welcoming, neutral space where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to enjoy the benefits of high-quality educational programs.

“When you walk in the door of a library, everyone is equal,” he said. “That’s what our democracy should be about. We’re all welcome.”

“But a lot of people don’t understand what the library does,” he added.

Just having a smartphone, for instance, does not mean essential information is at the user’s fingertips. Libraries offer access to special databases and information sources. Ancestry.com is one that has sparked enthusiasm in library users. Besides that, not everyone can afford costly computers and digital devices, nor can everyone afford digital service at home.

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t find everything you need on the internet.

On Sunday, Sept. 15, Wayne Onkst will be talking about the role of public libraries and the ways libraries improve the quality of life in a community, often through the support and commitment of Friends’ groups.

In Calloway County, the Friends group is comprised of volunteers that advocate for quality services for all the people in Calloway County. They support the library through fundraising and enhancing public awareness of the library and its services.

Some essential activities of the Calloway County group include book sales, legislative meet and greet opportunities, sponsoring programming, speaker and author presentations, library staff appreciation events, and various educational endeavors to enhance library programs and services.

A library can never have too many friends, and the public is welcome to attend the annual meeting on September 15. The presentation by Wayne Onkst and the reception afterward are free.

Wayne Onkst is the author of “Presidential Visits to Kentucky, 1819 – 2017,” published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation in 2018. The book covers 120 presidential visits to Kentucky and is available through the Jesse Stuart Foundation bookstore at www.jsfbooks.com.

The Calloway County Public Library is at 710 Main Street in Murray. For more information, go to www.callowaycountylibrary.org.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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