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The True Value of Libraries

by Board Member Michele Veale

Michele Veale is Vice-President and Treasurer of the Community Library Network Board of Trustees.

I am one of five people serving on the Community Library Network Board of Trustees.  I volunteer my time to serve because I know the value of our libraries. We have eight in the District: Athol, Harrison, Hayden, Pinehurst, Post Falls, Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, and our bookmobile.  Each and every one has it’s own personality and is beloved in its community. We encompass 1,150 square miles and serve about 101,000 residents.  

My first memory of the library is standing on the couch looking out of the window and waiting for the bookmobile to roll up and park in front of my house. Of course my little sister and I thought they came just for us! I was about three and my sister was two. Each time we crawled up those big steps there was an adventure to be had! I share this with you because I think every board member should be able to recall that sense of wonder.

Being a trustee is not as easy and as clear-cut as it sounds. It has a steep learning curve and it can in fact be painful and messy.   In the early 90s, one person raided the Post Falls, Hayden, and Coeur d’Alene library bookshelves taking all the books on white supremacy groups. The question about replacing these expensive materials came before the board, and all of us struggled with the issue.  Some of the materials I personally found distasteful.  And yet the question arose:  Are we for intellectual freedom or are we not? It was turning point for me as I learned overseeing a library is serious business. 

But it has its perks, too. We do amazing work and have a powerful impact on our community, one person at a time. I have seen staff greet patrons at the door saying, “I have a new book for you!”  When people walk away after interacting with staff, they know they were helped in every way possible. People have worked in our libraries for a long time because they are committed and love what they do.

I know the work we do behind the scene translates into excellent programs and services.  Before I became a board member, I did not have a personal connection to what our tax dollars do. Since then, I have never looked at my tax bill the same. I find the library fascinating.  Where else do you collect a bunch of really expensive materials and let people come through the door and borrow them with only the promise that they will bring them back?  Frankly, it should not work. But it does.  People in all our communities love our libraries.  I am really proud to live in a community that feels that way.

My favorite memory was talking to a homeschool mom about library services.  Her seven-year old daughter came up to us and introduced herself to me.  She asked my name and shook my hand.  I knew something extraordinary was happening, because the little girl was glowing with pride.  In a movie there would have been special music and spotlight on the child—it was that amazing.  

After the child went to look at books, her mother explained that her daughter was autistic and social interaction was something they were working on.  Then she said how much our library staff helped in the process.  It was the interaction with the staff, the patience and time they took with her, that propelled her daughter to a new level.  And that’s just the one time that I know about.  I can’t imagine how many times that happens at our libraries everyday.  I’m guessing that’s the rule, not the exception. 

Michele Veale is Vice-President and Treasurer of the Community Library Network Board of Trustees.