The Open Book
Community: More than just the people in your neighborhood
Robyn E. Vittek
In my old office, back in Akron, I had this great poster hanging. It was titled “How to Build Community,” and it consisted of a list of the different ways a person could participate in the world around them. “Know your neighbors. Build a garden. Talk to the mail carrier. Ask for help when you need it. Support neighborhood schools.” I always liked the poster, but I don’t know how much I ever really internalized what it said. Two different people this week brought it back into my mind, and made me think about community and why we need it.
While ‘community’ can be loosely defined as a group of people living in the same geographic area, the word becomes far more powerful when used to describe people who interact, or have common interests. Even if you never leave the house, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow people from all over the world to share common interests, meet friends, and create bonds with one another. When a group of people combine common interests and physical proximity, that’s when wonderful things start to happen.
Humans are very social creatures–even the ‘antisocial’ among us – and we need acceptance and commonality to feel good about ourselves and the world we live in. Most of us belong to several communities – at church, with family members, from school or work. I picture each of the people in a given community connected, as with a thread, and when each of us radiates several of these threads there is a web of interconnectedness that causes us to use a phrase like, “It’s a small world!” when we meet someone to whom we are distantly related, or that knows our best friend from high school, or that hangs out with a favorite uncle at the gas station every morning. We’re not really talking about the world, but the communities we’ve created within that world. By recognizing these connections, we strengthen the old ties, create new ones, and contribute our personal store of knowledge and sense of humor and love and strength.
One of the things that I like about St. Clairsville is the very active web of community networks that welcomed me in immediately. Having grown up in the Valley, I was able to use my high school and family communities to help me connect with my library board, staff, and patrons. One of the board members introduced me to the St. Clairsville Noon Rotary in my second day on the job and I created even more community ties there, which led me to get involved with the Chamber of Commerce, Ruritan, and other local agencies. Although I hadn’t lived in the Ohio Valley for almost 13 years, I meet someone I am connected to almost everywhere I go. And instead of making me feel like it’s a small world, I feel like my world is very large indeed.
Public libraries are lucky because someone, many years ago, had the brilliant idea to change them from subscription-based, members-only services to publicly funded agencies with “Open to All” as the mantra. Everyone is welcome, and anyone who wants to strengthen their community by making friends, learning new things, or sharing what they know, would be hard-pressed to find a better place. Many libraries are already central to their community physically, and many of us library directors are working hard to cement our libraries into the community on other levels, joining and strengthening the social networks that make our neighborhoods and towns and cities the wonderful places that they are to live, work, and grow up.
So to quote that poster again, sit on your stoop. Hire young people for odd jobs. Organize a block party. Share what you have. And, of course, use your library.
Visit the St. Clairsville Public Library and give the password, “Community,” to the front desk staff by July 31 and be entered to win two tickets to the upcoming St. Clair Ruritan Chicken Barbeque! The St. Clairsville Public Library is located at 108 W. Main Street. We are open Monday- Wednesday 10-8, Thursday-Friday 10-6 and Saturday 10-2. We can be reached at 740-695-2062 or www.stclibrary.org.
The Open Book