Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Plea for Public Libraries

This is a quote in today's Shelf Awareness newsletter.

"I have been discussing libraries as places and in the current struggle to preserve public libraries not enough stress has been laid on the library as a place not just a facility. To a child living in high flats, say, where space is at a premium and peace and quiet not always easy to find, a library is a haven. But, saying that, a library needs to be handy and local; it shouldn't require an expedition. Municipal authorities of all parties point to splendid new and scheduled central libraries as if this discharges them of their obligations. It doesn't. For a child a library needs to be round the corner. And if we lose local libraries it is children who will suffer. Of the libraries I have mentioned the most important for me was that first one, the dark and unprepossessing Armley Junior Library. I had just learned to read. I needed books. Add computers to that requirement maybe but a child from a poor family is today in exactly the same boat." --Alan Bennett

Yesterday, my daughter and infant granddaughter spent some time in the beautiful children's room of the Kalamazoo Public Library. We noticed that they have story times for all ages, even children as young as Adela (3 months). Adela and I read books while her mother looked for the books she needed to teach her parenting classes. It was a lovely experience, and Adela will be going to the infant story time next week.

It reminded me of my first library experiences at the Carnegie Library in Little Falls, Minnesota.  I remember vividly walking up those marble steps and into a wonderland. My favorite books were Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, Snip, Snapp and Snurr and others in those series by Maj Lindman. Oh, how I loved that library. One of the big events of my childhood was when I was old enough to walk myself to the library, open those huge doors, find my own books, and present my own card to the librarian. A love affair began.

We moved to Duluth Minnesota when I was in the sixth grade, and I was able to have the same experience in another Carnegie Library, an even larger and more imposing edifice. There I was able to access what is currently called "Young Adult" fiction, and if I was very clever, I could sneak some adult fiction past the librarian. At that time I was into Vicki Barr, Cherry Ames, and other "career" books. I remember looking at the last page of the book, and if there was a boy's name on the last page, I knew that it was a romance and therefore readable on a summer afternoon. The Carnegie building in Duluth still exists on the hill overlooking the harbor, even though it no longer serves as a library.

Thanks to the money of Andrew Carnegie, children all over America were able to have the same experiences that I had. Between 1899-1917, Andrew Carnegie's money helped build over 2500 libraries in the United States--65 in Minnesota--two of which were so influential in my childhood.

Public libraries are one of the great treasures of the United States and whatever form they will take in the future, it is my fervent prayer that they will continue to be there for children, young and old.

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