The Public Library
"The very existence of libraries offers the best evidence that
we may yet have hope for the future of Mankind."
One of the very things I am sure that unite all my readers is
that you will heartily agree with T. S. Eliot (above). Betcha we're
all big fans of public libraries. Some of us have fond memories of
those precious places where our abilities and imaginations were
nurtured. Many of us proudly and appreciatively initiated our own
children into this no-passport-needed world. I'd be lost without
library access. I imagine many of you would be also.
Robert Dawson's The Public Library (in which I discovered the
above quote) is the beautiful result of an 18 year labor of love.
Dawson, who grew up during the Vietnam War, a time when our nation was
deeply divided, developed a keen interest in the elements that help
unite our nation. One of his inspirations was a book, Court House,
that the civic importance of county courthouses.
Dawson photographed hundreds of libraries in forty-seven
states. They range from amazing examples of art and architecture to
humbler one room collections and the buses that bring reading
materials to isolated communities. There is even the dollhouse sized
first Little Free Library with its honor system instructions to "Take
a book. Return a book." In the pages of his book you'll see:
*the first tax supported public library in Peterborough, New Hampshire
(to which I, myself, have made a pilgrimage);
*a futuristic Texas library located in "the most violent zone in the
world outside of declared war zones;"
*the castle like first Carnagie library, located in a Pennsylvania
steel town that once, in addition to books, included a gym, a theater,
and a swimming pool;
*the grand, mythology inspired entrance to Brooklyn's Central Library;
*and so many other amazing buildings.
The libraries and information about them would be treasure
enough. But, like patches in a crazy quilt, they are sewn together by
essays about the necessity, worth, and (sadly) endangerment of our
public library system. Libraries do so much for so many people.
Beyond the lending of books, periodicals, and audiovisual materials,
they provide services like community meeting spaces, literacy,
tutoring, and computer instruction. For many people they are the only
access to the Internet. For homeless people they provide daytime
shelter from the elements (as in the current winter weather) and from
those who would mug them for their meager belongings.
One of the essays asks us to imagine a country without
libraries. I'm sure it's one we wouldn't want to dwell in. Well even
as more and more people need a wider range of services, library
funding is being cut, often drastically. There are moves to privatize
and charge, which would put them out of the reach of people who need
them the most. Today all who love our libraries must FIGHT to
maintain and expand what is maybe the only remaining institution
(public schools being funded by property taxes) that is a beacon of
hope for equality in access to knowledge.
On a personal note, I'm enjoying the continuing snow and my son's
February vacation. I have a part in Orono Community Theater's
production of Jungle Book and look forward to rehearsals.
A great big shout out to all professionals and fellow volunteers who
keep these beacons of hope we call public libraries alive.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod