One of the cultural cornerstones of every community is its library.

Across Vermont, dozens of libraries serve tens of thousands of patrons each year. They are so much more than a place to borrow books.

Like all cultural institutions, libraries have had to adapt to our changing times, while also serving as a place for communities to congregate. They are accommodating sanctuaries. And, of course, they are repositories for knowledge, lore, tradition and more. They are the heart of many communities.

Vermont is unique in that the tight-knit group of libraries can try things that might not be easily adapted in large cities or states.

“Grow it. Hunt it. Find it.” is the theme of the Vermont Department of Libraries’ latest effort. Partnering with Rooted in Vermont and the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, several libraries are taking part in “Exploring Food in Your Backyard” from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.

Local libraries will host community discussions, hands-on activities, and kid-centric events that feature and discuss local food activities that Vermonters have been doing for generations such as hunting, fishing, gardening and foraging.

“Vermont’s public libraries are deeply rooted in their communities, providing a space for neighbors to gather, learn from one another, share and obtain information, and build community,” said Lara Keenan, Vermont Department of Libraries statewide consultant for library directors and trustees, in a printed statement. “These vital community resources that model sustainability, resiliency, and creativity are the perfect place for Vermonters to gather to showcase their communities through discussions of local food resources.”

The events range in topics. For example, the Waterbury Public Library will host “Food in Your Backyard: Rooted in Vermont,” with herbalist and wildcrafter Cathy Dodgy giving a presentation on roots. Richmond Free Library will host two events — “Having Hunters on Your Land” and “Gourmet Wild Mushrooms of Vermont.”

In addition, every library participating in “Exploring Food in Your Backyard” week also will have free Rooted in Vermont stickers for community members to take home with them.

“Libraries are the perfect community gathering place to bring neighbors together to share and discuss all of the fun and unique ways that they have been doing local food for generations,” said Shane Rogers, Rooted in Vermont project manager. “Rooted in Vermont is just as much about celebrating the community that local food creates as it is about the actual food on the plate.”

The American Library Association is constantly pushing for programs like this one.

The ALA notes that “libraries play a critical role in the happiness of Americans.”

They would know. They keep tabs on the nation’s library system. What they have found is that more Americans depend on libraries more and more.

The association website stated:

— There were 113 million attendees at public library programs in 2018, more than all Major League Baseball, National Football League and National Basketball Association games combined.

— Digital media titles in U.S. public libraries have increased by 50% since 2014.

— 84% of libraries offer technology training to patrons in computer software use.

— 98% of public libraries offer free Wi-Fi.

But libraries, like many institutions designed to serve the public, face fiscal challenges. (We certainly see it here in Vermont each Town Meeting Day, when public libraries put forth requests to voters for town support.)

Programs like “Exploring Food in Your Backyard” demonstrate the uniqueness of each community, which is a highlight residents might just take for granted. If it is doing its job well, the local library is a reflection of the diversity and character of a specific community. It ends up meeting very specific needs. And those needs and expectations are often extensive, and the services invaluable.

And during economic hardship, residents often turn to and depend on the library to help break the cycle of poverty by providing services and resources for finding jobs.

Libraries are a unique and valuable resource. We need the lifelines — cultural and informational — to keep our towns and cities strong and attractive to others.

Take the time to visit your library for its programs and services. And support it in any way you can. They are worth checking out.

“Exploring Food in Your Backyard” programming can be found at bit.ly/RootedinVT

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