Reinvesting in our Community

The enthusiastic participation in the current "Community Visit" dialog exploring Manchester 2020 reveals a widespread sense that Manchester is at a crossroads - and an equally strong conviction that this crossroads is not labeled Malfunction Junction. We are, indeed, a healthily functioning community with a can-do orientation toward protecting the welfare of our shared future.

Some fruits of this community activism are at hand for all to harvest. But there is more to be done. As anyone who has driven by 7A at Cemetery Ave. knows, new ground is being broken to be seeded with a state-of-the-art, vital community resource.

Work on Manchester's new Library is well underway. The Morrow family sees this critical re-investment in our community as vitally important, and it is worth exporting the reasons why.

First, the existing library building is obsolete. It is not feasible to make it accessible to the disabled. Retrofitting it to up-to-date standards of efficiency for heating, cooling and ventilation is not possible, and even partial improvements to climate control systems would not be cost effective. Its fractured, multi-leveled design does not allow for the efficient functional use required of modern library services and programming. A new building is necessary. The new building design provides efficient functionality while incorporating the components and flexibility needed for the evolving roles of a modern Knowledge Age library. We believe this is critical to the cultural and economy vitality of Manchester.

The library's historical image - repository for book-based knowledge, a place of quiet contemplation, a lender of books - while still of significant value, has an archaic aura. This is not surprising, given that we are slogging through a wrenching transition from an Industrial Age culture to a Knowledge Age culture.

This transition involves constant change, at an ever accelerating rate, which has speeded up the obsolescence of knowledge. Value has shifted from stocks of knowledge to the flows of new knowledge. Any citizen's ability to function effectively now depends less on the amount of knowledge acquired and more on an ability to constantly learn and re-learn.

Lifelong learning is now an economic imperative, not merely a mantra for active retirees. Our community's cultural and economic vitality requires a continuing investment in infrastructure that facilitates learning at every stage of life, preschool through job-hunting and mid-career through pre-dotage. Libraries all over the world are evolving to function as the lead institutions in facilitating lifelong learning in their communities for citizens at every level of the income spectrum.

As technology provides expanding access to a growing galaxy of data and information for everyone everywhere, the task of mining this treasure trove for accurate, practical and precise information becomes daunting. Forming knowledge from information and extracting wisdom from knowledge has always been a rarified art. So now more than ever, the need for guides to this information universe, for curators to help in accessing and rating quality of information - for interpreting this vast virtual archive, is accentuated.

Furthermore, exposure to the developing high-tech world generates a demand for a balancing high-touch antidote to it. The need for face-to-face contact continues; humans are inherently social. Every healthy community needs neutral, safe, hospitable places for congregation-for socializing, working, collaborating, solving problems, and playing. We need to communicate, share ideas and learn from each other face-to-face. Coming together to share experiences, exchange best practices, and create solutions is critical to effective use of cyberspace. A need for the traditional 2Oth century services of the community library will continue for decades, at least until the forty-plus generations fade away, as it were. The modern library must service both the old and the new world order, reorganizing, remixing, redistributing, and recreating free resources with flexibility and agility providing a dynamic gateway to information.

A strong library also stabilizes and strengthens community, and it a valuable partner with school and community organizations in developing literacy skills at an early age. But these days, education needs to go way beyond basic literacy to information literacy servicing lifelong learning.

We see this understanding as guiding the design of the new Manchester library and therefore urge strong support for this exciting and important project. Ed, Barbara and Chris Morrow are co-founders & owner of the Northshire Bookstore.


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