One of my regular readers commented on my music blog about discovering a rather great but obscure Chet Atkins record at her local library. It was a good reminder of their value, so this Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for public libraries. Former First Lady Laura Bush once offered that “I have found that the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.” Indeed, if I wanted to be corny about it, I’d say it offers more of the world than your passort and more riches than a Visa card. But I won’t be corny…I’ll just think it instead!
I grew up just before the Golden Age of Google. As a kid in the ’70s and university student in the ’80s, there was no internet. There were books, periodicals, records (and later CDs). My family was literate, and I spent many an hour and allowance in book stores when young, but still, there were limits to what was in reach at home, whether for learning or recreational reading. By comparison, our local public library seemed limitless. The city where I grew up had three library branches, the main one being a sprawling, two-level place with virtual acres of novels and reference books, a kids section, a couple of full aisles of music CDs, foreign movies, perhaps 160-feet of shelves of magazines and newspapers. Forget candy shops…this kid was happiest in the library. My appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut, Oscar Wilde and many other authors came exclusively from happening upon a work of theirs and borrowing it, which sparked my curiosity enough to borrow more of their work. Likewise, I might never have really found bands I love like the Mescaleros or Wilco without having access to borrow CDs of theirs. If you’re a poor student, there’s a lot less at risk borrowing a CD for a week than going to the store and putting down $15 to buy it, sound unheard. And yes, in turn, I ended up buying quite a few of them for my own library in time. the library sponsored movie nights where they’d show small-budget or foreign films in the basement, movies one wouldn’t have seen on NBC or noticed as they gathered dust at the Blockbuster. Many a school assignment was roughed out while sitting in the stalls there, and when they began experimenting with introducing computers, much of my e-mail writing and reading was done at the public library… their service let me do more with the half hour allotted than I often could do at home in twice that with my spotty dial up service.
When I read through the book Our Towns by the Fallows, where they visited various towns and cities throughout the country which seem to be thriving, one thing they pointed out was that all of them seemed to have a vibrant library system. Besides the storehouse of knowledge in the books within, many are important community centers, offering adult education courses, life help for the homeless or destitute, community events like the movie nights in my old town, after-school programs to keep at-risk kids off the streets til their parents get home, you name it.
Albert Einstein once said “the only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” I know that Einstein was a pretty smart dude… so I sure won’t disagree.