Are Public Libraries Great Social Equalizers?

I was having “one of those” days. I had back-to-back meetings from dawn until evening, and I was decidedly tired. Though I was scheduled to attend a philanthropic event for Women United taking place at an extraordinarily elegant private home that night, I mostly wanted to go home and read a good book. (That last part would feel pleasantly ironic by the end of the night.)

Because I committed to be there, however, I left the office and began my drive across town. This turned out to be the best decision I’d made all week.

At the event,  Heidi Daniel, the recently appointed president and CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, spoke about her personal journey to success. She shared the story of how her adoptive parents—who both worked hard in service jobs—promised that their little girl would  one day make it to college. They introduced Heidi early on to public libraries, where she said she learned to “travel through books.” It was in those formative years that her love of libraries and understanding of them as social equalizers evolved. She spoke passionately of the fact that in libraries—people of all walks of life and economic strata would sit side by side—all with the same access to vast bodies of knowledge. Free knowledge from which all could benefit—with Heidi’s path an embodiment of this very fact.

Heidi inspired all the attendees that night. You could feel her passion and her commitment, and she was so convincing and driven.

She demonstrated that it is not enough to just contribute funds to help important causes: We have to lead everyday with what we believe in, always giving of ourselves.

After the gathering, I thought of how earlier in the evening, I just wanted to go home and read a good book—a pleasure and gift that I was far less likely to take for granted after meeting Heidi. I reflected on her powerful words and on my personal journey, and I felt profoundly grateful for the opportunity to meet her—a young woman who moved here from Cuyahoga County in Ohio and who will most certainly have a great impact on so many lives. She reinvigorated our desire to let passion lead our actions to improve the lives of children from every walk of life.

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