Thursday, September 22, 2016

Libraries Make the Difference!

Reading Oz in Macksville Grade School Library
Whatever the cost of our libraries the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.  --Walter Cronkite

Isaac B. Werner left family behind to build a new life in the West, and as a young druggist he prioritized the acquisition of a fine library at the top of his list for spending saved cash.  When he decided to move further west to claim a homestead and timber claim in Kansas, he managed to find a way to ship his impressive library to his prairie home. 

His collection of books included a wide range of subjects, including law, penmanship, history, art, literature, biography, travel, politics, elocution, grammar, medicine, and other topics.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2/2/2012; "Who Reads Shakespeare," 5/30/2013; and "Art in Isaac's Life," 1/22/2014, in the blog archives.)  Isaac was a serious reader.  As I have indicated in other blogs, I attempted to purchase some of the titles Isaac had owned, buying the oldest editions I could find to better represent the editions he owned.  The scholarly content of most of the books he collected stand as evidence that he was a sincere autodidact.  See "Isaac, the Autodidact," 11-13-2014 in the Blog Archives.
Summer program in Macksville City Library

"...[W]hen a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open too."  --Bill Moyers

One of Isaac's ideas was to establish a library in the County Seat of St. John, where farmers and populists could go to study.  His local Farmer's Alliance did establish a library in the Emerson School where they met.  Isaac built the book cupboard, and members, strapped for cash as they were, voted an assessment to purchase books.  Much of the library was gifted by Isaac from his own collection, however.

Today we are fortunate to have access to books, whether we are rich or poor.  Schools have libraries, and in Isaac's old community there are fine public libraries in St. John, Pratt, Stafford, and even the small town of Macksville.

"The Public Library once an ode to the glory of our most democratic institutions and a culturally necessary prompt to defend them like we would defend our freedom to live, learn, and be--a freedom to which the library is our highest celebration."  --Maria Popova

Used book store in Philadelphia
Today we are also fortunate to have easy access to books through the internet, whether we are ordering books for our own libraries or reading e-books or excerpts available online.  What is less available online, however, is the guidance of librarians.  

"I see them as healers and magicians.  Librarians can tease out of inarticulate individuals enough information about what they are after to lead them onto the path of connection.  They are trail guides through the forest of shelves and aisles--you turn a person loose who has limited skills, and he'll be walloped by the branches.  But librarians match up readers with the right books."  --Anne Lamott

Statistics show that fewer people read books today, finding their entertainment and information elsewhere, and libraries are trying to adapt.  Not only are computers a part of modern libraries but also objects (like cake pans) may be checked out.  DVD rentals seemed to be an important part of one local library's service to the community during a recent visit that I made.

"The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community."  --Paula Poundstone

The ability to check out unconventional things at the local library may not seem to serve the ideals expressed in the foregoing quotes, but a library containing the most incredible books ever written serves no purpose unless people come to the library to read those books.  When Laura Bush said, "I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card," I doubt that she was referring to the ability to check out things other than books.  Yet, perhaps the visitor that comes for a cake pan will leave with an armload of cookbooks, or the child that checks out a movie will discover books about that historic period or movie theme--especially if the librarian is a good "trail guide" with time to direct the visitor to appealing books.

Take a book/Leave a book in Pratt, KS
For Norman Cousins, "A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life."  Sadly, no ideas will be born if the library does not attract readers.  Imagine the excitement of children attending the country schools of Isaac's community in the late 1800s if they entered any one of the public libraries today's residents enjoy.

Libba Bray expresses the potential that many of us have come to take for granted:  "The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and striving of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance..."

Isaac and his neighbors who settled the Kansas prairie knew that.

(P.S. for Pratt area residents:  After several months of renovations the Pratt Library is planning to reopen for adult and teen sections on October 24th.  The library will be closed Oct. 17-22 to move the book collection into the new locations. That will accomplish Phase I and II, with Phase III scheduled for the end of the year.) 


Nicholas OConnor said...

Enjoyed this blog Linda. Will look at others.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

This blog is proving popular and comments are being left on face book and sent as e-mails. Also, several people have shared e-mails about the blog. One friend shared a great picture of a Little Library, and two friends sent comments that I will share. S.G. in MO said: "Libraries should be as important in communities as the local courthouses." L.K. shared a favorite quote: "A book is a gift you can open again and again." Thanks everyone for your responses!

The Blog Fodder said...

Wonderful post which I will share with my librarian daughter. But you forgot one quote that has had more impact on american education than all the others. Unfortunately.
I don't want a nation of thinkers. I want a nation of workers. Quote by John D Rockefeller, American industrialist (1839 - 1937).