One for the books: Next secretary of state should continue to champion libraries

Retiring incumbent Jesse White is widely regarded as having used his position to help libraries, readers, writers and lifelong learners.

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Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Whoever is elected Illinois secretary of state in the fall — Democrat Alexi Giannoulias or Republican state Rep. Dan Brady — we hope the winner maintains the strong support for libraries exhibited by Jesse White, who is leaving the office after six terms.

Besides running more than 20 other departments, the secretary of state acts as Illinois’ chief librarian and state archivist. White is widely regarded as having used his position to champion libraries, readers, writers and lifelong learners at a time when access to dependable information is critically important.

White’s many initiatives include the Public Library Construction Program; Project Next Generation, which brings youth into libraries; the Talking Book and Braille Service; and the Veterans History Project. His Expanding Digital Inclusion: Transforming Library Services program makes laptops available for checkout.

During his administration, close to $100 million has been spent on improving libraries and expanding services. He gave nearly $6 million to help libraries cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. White accomplished all that even during periods of budget austerity.

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All of this is important to Illinois. Libraries encourage reading and literacy. They open doors to culture and knowledge. They provide educational resources, access to digital databases many people can’t afford and internet connectivity to those who don’t have it. They offer adult and children’s programming and ESL (English as a second language) instruction. Many provide maker spaces with 3-D printers that encourage creativity. Many provide bookmobiles and homebound services that are a lifeline to those who can’t travel to a library. Local libraries have been called the people’s university.

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Like many institutions, libraries have struggled to adapt to changes in the information age. But they are also incredible resources for helping patrons, particularly those without many of their own resources, to navigate the modern world and the complexities of modern life, from health care research to getting passports. Libraries are essential to building strong communities.

Over the years, we have heard from countless people who recall how spending time in libraries when they were young nurtured their intellectual curiosity and understanding of the world.

Illinois must make sure its libraries remain strong, for those who need library services and for everyone who thirsts for knowledge.

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