Looking through a file of clippings I throw things into, I found an interview with David McCullough the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian. When asked by Jonathan Soroff, “What is a library’s role in a democracy?,” he said the following,
Without a doubt, public libraries are one of the greatest of American institutions, and if you’ve ever lived or worked abroad you’ll know this. Free access to literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, the works – civilization’s entire treasure house of ideas – is open to everyone. It’s pure democracy at work. The portals of a great library are the portals to freedom. Thomas Jefferson said, “Any nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be.” There’s no excuse to be ignorant in a community where there’s a public library, and there’s one in virtually every community in the land. I like to tell people that if you get down about the state of education, learning, the arts, etc. in our country today, remember that there are still more public libraries than there are McDonalds….We must never, ever take our public libraries for granted. People just assume that these things are looked after properly, but they’re not. I’m not blaming anyone. We’re all to blame, and we must change it.
There are 16,220 public libraries in the U.S., including branches. 95% provide public access to the Internet. Americans check out an average of more than six books annually. They spend approximately $25.25 a year to support their public libraries, less than the cost of one hardcover book.