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Every night I read my son Cristian a set of bedtime stories. Even at one year old, he loves books and can pick his favorites. One book that always makes the stack is Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn & Rosalind Beardshaw. It is a short and sweet book about a girl named Lola that goes to the library with her mother every Tuesday morning. I often wonder why it makes Cristian’s top picks. It doesn’t have any fancy pop-up pages or wildly colored animals or creatures. It doesn’t even rhyme. But every time I read it, he sits quietly enthralled, and enjoys every page.

After I read it tonight, it made me think about how I choose what organizations to support philanthropically, my top picks. Sometimes is in response to a terrible tragedy that occurs. Other times I hear a story on NPR about an organization saving lives somewhere around the world. I’m prompted to think, ‘I should really support them. What a huge impact they are making!’ 

While that kind of support is critical and can be in the stack of top picks, my lesson from Cristian is that I shouldn’t overlook Lola at the Library. I shouldn’t overlook the organizations that are impacting my life, my family, and my community every day. That kind of support is critical for a better world too.

Fittingly, one of those organizations is actually The Library. I have always been a library person. In all my travels and re-locations, one of my first stops is to get a library card. It is easy to overlook that libraries need philanthropic support because they are public institutions and receive funding from tax dollars, but the government is necessarily a reliable and sufficient funding source.

I also can’t help but remember learning in grad school about how businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was in essence responsible for the public library system in America. He donated money to create over 1,700 libraries in cities across the U.S. When I first learned about this I was amazed when I considered the impact that kind of gift made on our society. Practically every library in every city I have been in is a Carnegie Library. 

In addition to the inspiration to continue Carnegie’s legacy, I am inspired to support libraries by my local librarians. Right up there with teachers, librarians make my list of favorite people in the world. I do not want to stereotype, but the librarians I know have a very creative, inquisitive, and independent spirit, which I love. They may be quiet and friendly, but they also have a fierce sense of duty to protect the availability of the written word. I cannot think of many things that are completely free in this world. But when you walk into the library, there they are – hundreds of thousands of books, ideas, and dreams, free for the taking.

I am very lucky to live in a town with an amazingly designed library, but more than the architecture, I love the community it builds. People of all ages and backgrounds with every interest you can think of come together in one place. We take Cristian there every Saturday morning. I am happy to report that he is becoming a library person too.

For more info on supporting your local library, here is a link to the American Library Association.

*Originally posted in Finding Philanthropy, February 9, 2011