A closed Swedish library left its door open. The community reacted with pure goodness.
Now, that's what community means.
Basketball coaching legend John Wooden once famously said, "The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching," and he has a great point. It’s one thing to do what’s right when you are afraid you’ll be punished for doing the wrong thing by an authority figure. It’s another to do the right thing because your peers will applaud you.
But the highest moral good is doing what’s right when no one is watching because that’s doing good for its own sake.
A story out of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that in that community, the patrons of its library know a little something about doing good just because it’s the right thing to do.
On November 4, the Gothenburg City Library was closed for All Saints Day. The day is a holiday dedicated to remembering loved ones who passed by lighting a candle on their graves, or spending time with family and having a festive meal.
The City Library was scheduled to be closed for the holiday, but one of the employees forgot to lock the building door. So, being that it was a Saturday, hundreds of people flocked to the library to check out books, read magazines, surf the internet, or play video games.
Bike parking at the Gothenburg City Library in Sweden.
Library employee Anna Carin Elf was in the neighborhood and was shocked to see people walking in and out of the library when it was supposed to be closed. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be open, the people in the library just went about their business as if it was a typical day.
“They were surprised. They thought it was a bit empty,” Elf said, according to ZME Science. “The people in the library behaved as usual. Many were sitting reading newspapers, some families were in the children’s section and others were searching for books on the computer.”
Elf contacted her boss and another colleague and told everyone in the library that the building was closed. The patrons closed up their books and went home. But some left with books for some weekend reading.
The librarians later did a tally and found that 446 people visited the library on All Saints Day and 246 books were borrowed. Surprisingly, all of the books were returned within 5 days. "Nothing was destroyed. It's amazing that Gothenburgers enter an empty library and treat it so lovingly," Elf told The Local.
Through that act, the people of Gothenburg showed us what community spirit is all about. Their collective honesty is a beautiful indicator of their love for their library, its resources and their fellow citizens. Because when you rob a library, you’re stealing from your community.
The story is a powerful reminder to people all over the world of how we should view our public libraries. They aren’t just buildings but a crucial part of our community, a hub of learning and a symbol of our trust in each other.
It also proves the old Iraqi proverb: “The reader does not steal, and the thief does not read.”
This article originally appeared on 11.9.23