The older I get, the more I appreciate the simpler times in my life. When the joy of a good book, a walk in the park, and time spent with family or friends were things to look forward to rather than to neglect. Often, they were times that served to nurture, reenergize, and inspire me. Today, those things seem harder and harder to come by.
In an age when I-pods, X-boxes, instant software applications, and other high-tech distractions have replaced reading, exercise, and simple conversation, where can one go to replenish, reflect, or nourish their soul, whether in body, mind, or spirit? Depending upon where you live, you may be surprised by the answer. It’s also quite affordable, open to everybody, and right under your nose. Among the many influences that contribute to the quality of life in a community, I think of two resources whose impact is often taken for granted, underappreciated, and/or not completely understood.
Underutilization of libraries and their many educational resources may be particularly true in smaller locales where options for public engagement in community activities to improve the mind and body, may be few and far between.
However, many parks and recreation departments and public libraries around the country play a significant role in improving people’s lives by providing quality of life programs and services.
Overall health benefits derived from being active and engaged are fairly obvious to anyone who can read or hear, as it’s in community conversations everywhere daily.
Libraries have been part of our public consciousness and community planning since the days of Andrew Carnegie. Yet how many of us have ever stopped to consider all the ways parks, recreation, and public libraries benefit us and our community?
A study conducted by Eastern Kentucky University’s Recreation and Parks Administration Program did just that. They cite the Centers for Disease Control and Penn State University as claiming that creating, improving, and promoting places to be physically active can improve individual and community health by as much as 25 percent for residents who exercise at least three times per week.
The Penn State study further concluded that by just visiting a park and the length of time there was a significant correlation in reducing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, and increasing perceptions of physical well-being.
Parks & Recreation
Parks are places of social significance, serving as gathering places for families, social groups, and individuals of all ages and economic status. Many, although not all, are accessible and amenable to persons of advanced age or disability. Parks have been cited for lowering crime, vandalism, and juvenile delinquency, particularly in local neighborhoods when residents have supported them.
Parks too, have an impact on local economies, improving the local tax base and increasing property values simply by their location and what amenities they have to offer. This is particularly important for communities looking to entice new business.
Many studies determine why businesses might consider relocating to one community over another, and mention parks and recreation as one of the top three motivations. More than any of the above-identified impacts, most people say that having quality parks and recreation provide a sense of public pride and cohesion to their community and to neighborhoods fortunate enough to have them.
Equally significant is the role of the public library in the life of its community. Traditionally, the library has been seen as a place that housed a collection of books made available to the general public.
Today, the modern library has become an integral part of everyday life for many, offering an array of multi-faceted resources and opportunities to connect people to the world, and for communities to one another. They are gathering places for classes, exhibitions, talks, special events, movies and more.
Through a philosophy of continuous education, in an informal and comfortable setting, individuals may pursue interests or simply learn about something of which they may have never heard. Despite being primarily focused on attracting people to the library, many libraries also try to reach the wider community. Through bookmobiles and online services, libraries are accessible to others who may be isolated, alone, or unable to travel. Their goal is to reach and serve the entire community by ensuring that everyone is able to enjoy the many benefits the library has to offer. The ability to get together with others is a valuable component of successful community life and a way which has proven to increase an individual’s confidence and self-esteem.
The findings bear this out. 2013 Pew Research Center survey, reports that Americans strongly value the role of public libraries in their communities for providing access to materials and resources, for promoting literacy, and for improving the overall quality of life.
In fact, some 90% of Americans ages 16 and older said that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community, with 63% saying it would have a “major” impact. The survey also cited the overwhelmingly positive feeling they have for libraries as a quiet and safe place to spend time, read, or study; and where librarians can help people find information.
What may surprise you from the survey is that while most Americans know where their local library is and take comfort in knowing it’s there, many say they are unfamiliar with all the services their library has to offer. If you’re one of them, it may be high time for you to take a second look. You may be surprised by what you discover.