Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ode (and Owed) To Public Libraries

The public library is the crowning glory of American democracy.  The way to build and support communities includes supporting public libraries.

If you are counting in money, libraries can return more than $4 to the community for every $1 invested in the public library.  And libraries raise the value of homes that are located near a public library.

There are many ways besides money to count the value of libraries to individuals and communities. In the words of Bill Moyers:
When a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open, too.

Maria Popova, in her fascinating blog Brain Pickings writes about The Public Library in a post discussing the book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay (public library) by photographer Robert Dawson.  Here are photos of public libraries around the country from Dawson's book.

The Globe Chandelier near Children's Library, Central Library, Los Angeles, California, 2008
The chandelier is a model of the solar system. Signs of the zodiac ring the globe, along with forty-eight lights around the rim, which represent the forty-eight United States in 1926, when the building opened. It was designed by Goodhue Associates and modeled by Lee Lawrie. The mural beneath the chandelier by John Fisher is titled 'Sesquicentennial.'

George Washington Carver Branch Library, Austin, Texas, 2011
This mural by John Fisher covers a wall of the branch library. It depicts the horrors of the slave trade and celebrates African American culture. Black citizens in East Austin had strongly advocated for a library in their community, and this was the first branch library to serve them.

Reading room, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library, 2008
More than twelve hundred languages and dialects, ancient and modern, are represented in the collections, emblematic of the rich diversity of the city that built it.

Rudy's Library, Monowi, Nebraska, 2012
The entire population of this town consists of one woman, Elsie Eller. It is the only incorporated municipality in the United States with such a demographic. She acts as mayor and runs the only business in town, a local roadhouse. Over the years she watched all the other town residents move or pass away. When her husband, Rudy Eller, died in 2004, she became the town's last resident. Because Rudy had collected so many books, she decided to open Rudy's lLIbrary in a small shed next to her home. This memorial to Rudy is free and open to all. Patrons can check out books by signing a notebook. A wooden sign in the corner simply states 'Rudy's Dream.'

Destroyed Mark Twain Branch Library, Detroit, Michigan, 2011

Entrance to the Central Library, Brooklyn, New York, 2009

Popova tells us about Marguerite Hart, a librarian in Troy Michigan.  "To get the children in the community excited about books and reading, Marguerite Hart reached out to some of the era’s most celebrated minds — writers, actors, senators — and asked them to write letters to the children of Troy, extolling the value of libraries and the joy of books."  
She got back 91 letters.  And Popova quotes Ann Patchett:
Know this — if you love your library, use your library. Support libraries in your words and deeds. If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your books, and you have your own computer with which to conduct research, and you’re not in search of a story hour for your children, then don’t forget about the members of your community who are like you but perhaps lack your resources — the ones who love to read, who long to learn, who need a place to go and sit and think. Make sure that in your good fortune you remember to support their quest for a better life. That’s what a library promises us, after all: a better life. And that’s what libraries have delivered.
Dr. Seuss wrote the children of Troy Michigan:

In addition to the buildings, libraries are where you find librarians.  Librarians can help dig out the secrets and special features stored in libraries.  Knowing how to use the internet is often not the same as knowing how to find what you are looking for.  Be sure to ask the librarians questions when you visit a library.  They can help you find things you had no idea were there.   As one friend said:  "I've never had a boring conversation with a librarian."

For fun with librarians see these super hero librarians from the realms of fiction:

To see some real live librarian tattoos see 

Nell M.

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