The legend of the hummingbird reminds me of all the amazing things libraries do every day to support healthy communities and to empower the citizens within them:
One day, a long time ago in a faraway place, or so the legend goes, there was a huge forest fire raging the countryside. The animals were terrified. They were running around, screaming, crying and helplessly watching the impending disaster.
In the middle of the flames, and above the cowering animals, was a tiny hummingbird busy flying from a small pond to the fire, each time fetching a few drops with its beak to throw on the wild flames. It kept repeating this over and over and over again.
After a while, an old grouchy armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous useless agitation on the part of the hummingbird, cried out: “Little bird! Don’t be a fool. It is not with those miniscule drops of water one after the other that you are going to put out the fire and save us all!”
The hummingbird replied, “Could be, but I’m going to do my bit.
Let us have a closer look at what kind of drops of water libraries are throwing on the fire.
Libraries (and librarians) make us smarter and stronger – individually and collectively
Libraries are not schools or universities. You do not earn a degree from the library, but libraries are being the hummingbird by supporting lifelong learning on all levels.
Children, young people, and adults who study at the library get the help that might earn them better grades, and people who learn in a more informal way also get the support they need at the library. In the last 12 months 24 million Europeans (most frequently elderly people, members of ethnic minorities, and people from rural areas) used their public libraries to engage in informal learning activities. Libraries open up the world of knowledge and help introduce new ways of viewing life. They encourage thinking and the discussion of ideas. By doing this they make us stronger together.
With more and more information available in the world each day, it is more important than ever to have access to helpful and highly skilled information navigators. Librarians help people find not just “any” information but exactly the “right” information.
Librarians also support people in their job searches. Last year 1.5 million Europeans applied for jobs and 250,000 found jobs using free library internet access. (Now there is an example of our hummingbird throwing a quarter of a million drops of water on the fire.) Some libraries do not just provide access to the net but have job search programs. In the U.S. more than 65% of public libraries provide direct services for job seekers.
Access to free library services saves time and money, spurs economic growth
A 2013 survey of public library services across 18 European countries shows that nearly 100 million Europeans visited their public library, and 14 million used it to access the internet last year. 83% of those using free public library computer and internet services reported a positive impact on their lives – saving time and money, improving skills, gaining access to government services and employment- and health-related resources. Public libraries represent the only source of free internet access for 1.9 million marginalized Europeans.
Sometimes the small drops that the hummingbird throws on the fire have a very big effect. In the state of Maryland 90% of the state’s citizens say public libraries are “a good investment.” More than 40% of the state’s citizens think of public libraries as an economic anchor, potentially attracting “good businesses” to their area, and they are probably right. In South Carolina, the total direct and indirect return on investment for every $1 expended on the state’s public libraries by state and local governments is $4.48 – almost 350%.
There are lots of good reasons Americans go to school, public and academic libraries nearly three times more often than they go to the movies, and as you can see from this article it is not just the fact that there are more public libraries than McDonald’s. Libraries are simply making people smarter and helping them in their everyday lives.
Libraries connect ideas, information, and people
This is only a little part of all the things libraries are doing. Storytime inspires our kids with the power of great stories and their parents to read aloud, which again helps the children’s language development and makes them better readers. Makerspaces are emerging at libraries worldwide. Oh, and I almost forgot, you can still borrow good reads at your library – in traditional paper form and as e-books.
In other words, by being the hummingbird the library is doing its part to put out the fire by supporting learning and inspiring people to read, experience and think. In lots of different ways libraries empower people around our beautiful planet. Libraries are connecting ideas, information and people, and they are facilitating the development of new knowledge in their communities. I find it a very realistic vision that the fire will be kept in control.
[Jungle Orchids and Hummingbirds], Martin Johnson Heade, Painting, 1872, digital image, Yale University Art Gallery, http://search.openlibrary.artstor.org/object/AYALEARTIG_10312577805.
This legend of the hummingbird is a rough translation of a French version of the story “La légende du Colibri.” I first heard it at Copenhagen Business School where world renowned chef Claus Meyer told it at a conference: http://sustainablepenang.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/the-legend-of-the-hummingbird/
About Jan Holmquist
Jan believes the best library is created by being globally inspired and transforming that inspiration into acting locally in your community. Jan is currently working with library development at Guldborgsund Libraries, Denmark and is involved in global projects like #23mobilethings, The German library development network Zukunftswerkstatt, and has done crowdfunding library projects like Buy India a Library. Learn more at janholmquist.net.
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