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SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Wheeler Basin libraries home to many treasures

"Knowing I loved my books, he furnish'd me from mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom."

William Shakespeare's Prospero understood the importance of a good library. Prospero is thankful to Gonzalo for saving his life. He is thankful for food and rich garments, for linens and necessities. But he is most thankful for the library.

The play is a great read, by the way, and can be found at Wheeler Basin Library at Call No. 822.33 Sh52Xne. Go quick, though. Last week was National Library Week, and The Tempest won't stay on the shelves long.

The first public library owes much to Benjamin Franklin. He was outspoken in his arguments that public libraries were pivotal to the growing success of the colony.

Franklin wrote that "these Libraries have ... made the common Tradesman and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries."

The purpose of public libraries is no less noble today, and Wheeler Basin is meeting the challenge.

That challenge, however, is as great as it has ever been. The greatest information revolution since the invention of the Gutenberg Press, the Internet is transforming how people acquire knowledge. As did the first press, the Internet makes information available to far more people. Also like the first press, however, it has left many behind.

And that is where Wheeler Basin shines. For a small library, it has tackled the digital divide with vigor.

Wheeler Basin has for some time offered its members access to two treasure troves of digitized knowledge. Net Library gives library members the ability to access 27,000 e-books from any computer with Internet access. Another Internet service, Alabama Virtual Library, gives members access to an amazing collection of research materials. The materials include medical information, magazine articles, statistical sources and even homework aid.

These resources are great for those with broadband Internet access and good computers, but what about those who have neither?

Wheeler Basin supplied that answer when it recently purchased 10 powerful computers with broadband connections.

All are freely available to the public.

As Prospero hinted to his daughter Miranda, however, there is something special about books, the non-electric kind. The dusky smell in the stacks, the sense of wonder as we browse through pages on war and religion, philosophy and science. The way time stops between the drooping shelves.

For all its energy in meeting the digital challenge, Wheeler Basin has not forgotten the books. The system has 153,000 of them. The Decatur branch offers its readers 94,000.

With National Library Week coming to an end, it is time to reacquaint yourself with the library. It is a treasure that surpasses dukedoms.

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