Why Libraries Matter

It was the spring of 1971, and the public library in Troy, Mich., was finally getting a permanent home. As the grand opening neared, Marguerite Hart—the children’s librarian—dreamed up a way to inspire Troy’s youngsters to come to the new library: she wrote dozens of letters to actors, politicians, and authors from across the globe. Hart asked them to address the children of Troy and speak about the importance of libraries, books, and reading. By the time the library opened, 97 letters had graced her mailbox. Here’s a snapshot of what they had to say.

William White (Professor):

“It really gives someone a bang to discover suddenly that reading books can be fun. Just don’t wait too long to find this out—think of all the hours and days of fun you’ll miss. Go read a book in the library. Now.”

William Broomfield (US Congressman):

“Almost everyone is ignorant about almost everything. Surely there is no denying that. The most brilliant people are only brilliant about one or two matters, and ignorant of everything else. And ignorance is painful and irritating—the enemy of happiness. One of the greatest powers against the forces of ignorance is the public library. It knows no racial or economic boundaries. All who enter are welcome.”

Neil Armstrong (Astronaut):

“Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking... Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.”

David M. Kennedy (Cabinet Secretary):

“Your library is not just a building full of books. It is a gateway to thousands of worlds which you may choose to enter. Any world ever explored by man, or by man’s mind, is there awaiting you in print. The choice is yours.”

Ronald Reagan (California Governor):

“A world without books would be a world without light—without light, man cannot see.”

Dr. Seuss:

Edward Ardizzone (Author):

“What men and women did before makes us what we are now, and what we are now affects the future. To read of men and women of days gone by is to learn something of ourselves. For after all, they are part of us.”

Deane Davis (Vermont Governor):

“Read! It is nourishing, civilizing, worthwhile. Read! It destroys our ignorance and our prejudice. Read! It teaches us to understand our fellowman better and, once we understand this, it will be far easier to love him and work with him in a daily more complex society.”

Robert D. Ray (Iowa Governor):

“Freedom cannot falter where libraries flourish.”

John Burns (Hawaii Governor):

“Be very kind to all the librarians. They are among the wisest people in the world. We could do without governors if we had to, but we could not get along very well without librarians.”
“A library is like a railroad station or an airport: you sit in a comfortable chair and you are carried swiftly to other lands… Never gab-gab-gab in a library to disturb others. Remember that people in a library may be far away—in Afghanistan or Botswana or walking along the road to Mandalay or high in the sky in a silent swift balloon over the Pyrenees.”

John Berryman (Poet):

“The chief thing is to read as hard as you play, with the same seriousness and a mind wide open…You have a pretty building for your books. Go in, and change your life.”

Clara Jones (Director, Detroit Public Library):

“The person who reads need never be lonely.”

John Gilligan (Ohio Governor):

“A library is a place to visit the past and future, or to experience a non-existent world through the pages of volumes containing the dreams, beliefs, knowledge and skills of an author’s imagination and mind.”

Lisl Weil (Author):

“Books speak, if you listen well, they will make you think and grow tall and strong in feeling and seeing the world around you.”

Joseph Alioto (San Francisco Mayor):

“Books can be your companion on rainy days. They will always be there. And when you want to read, a book will never say, ‘No, I don’t want to.’”

Helen Gurley Brown (Editor in Chief, Cosmopolitan):

James Yaffe (President of Colorado College):

“We cannot live in more than one world; we cannot break through the barrier of our own individuality. We are doomed to be ourselves, when we yearn to be everybody. Man invented books to help him out of this dilemma…Through books we can catapult our imaginations into those worlds that our bodies can never reach. When we read history, we demolish the prison of time and become one with the men of the past… When we read poems or plays or stories, we are drawn into the inner lives, the feelings and thoughts, of other souls we could never have imagined for ourselves. [A library] helps us become more than ourselves.”

Mary Hemingway (Wife of Ernest Hemingway):

“A library is like a roomful of friends, each one with his own story or observations ready and waiting to be discovered.”

William Levitt (Real Estate Developer):

“As time goes on you will realize that books are very good friends. They ask nothing of you, but are ready to give everything. They are never in a hurry, but are always there when you want them. They are never short tempered, but are always ready to entertain you.”

Malcolm Boyd (Author):

“[Reading] is one of the things that transforms existence into life.”

Walter Havighurst (Author, Critic):

“A library is a quiet place. ‘Quiet, please’ reads a sign on the wall, and the books are silent on the shelves. But in the silence there is a murmur of voices waiting to be heard.”

George Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development):

“Every generation stands on the shoulders of generations that have gone before them…People who read books are wise because they use the tools of other men’s experiences.”

John Chafee (Secretary of the Navy):

“Libraries are wonderful places in which to be lost...Adventure is only an arm’s length away, and new friends are waiting for you between the covers of books.”

Neil Simon (Playwright):

“When I look back on the many pleasures [my library] afforded me, I do not for one instant regret living and growing up in a TV-less society.”

E.B. White (Author):

Mike O’Callaghan (Nevada Governor):

“[A library] is a living place, no matter how inanimate you may think the books themselves are. In those books are the ideas and thoughts of men and women who lived long ago, as well as those of people living today… Remember that libraries need feeding too, since they are living, and that it is far better to add a book to the shelves than deprive others of the opportunity to use it.”

Herbert Zim (Author):

“Bring a friend to the library. Get him to bring a friend, also. A good library is one that is over-worked and over-used.”

Richard Armour (Author):

“I am sixty-four years old, probably as old as your grandparents, but I am still learning. I learn from traveling and talking with people, but mostly I learn from reading books…Books are precious things. Between their covers are facts and ideas and imaginings put into words by the most sensitive and imaginative and creative people who ever lived.”

Kingsley Amis (Author):

“Use your library, remembering that, whatever else you may not have, if you have books, you have everything.”

Check out the complete collection on Troy Public Library’s webpage.

Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images
Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

Los Angeles Libraries Letting Young Readers Work Off Late Fees By Reading More

Though you’re more likely to catch today’s kids with their faces buried in a smartphone as opposed to a book, libraries in the Los Angeles area are doing their part to give kids every opportunity to fall in love with reading. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Los Angeles County has introduced some new measures to help kids discover a love of reading, including working with the local school systems to automatically sign every student up for a library card, eliminating late fees for anyone under the age of 21, and allowing youngsters who currently have any overdue book fees to pay off these balances by reading more.

Leilany Medina, an 11-year-old aspiring librarian, was one of the first kids in the area to take advantage of the new policies. Last week, she turned up at the East Los Angeles Library to “read off” her $4 balance.

"You tell them you'll read and they'll sign you in and you start," Medina, who is in fifth grade, told the Los Angeles Times. “When your head starts losing the book you can stop reading and they tell you how much money they took away.”

The program, which kicked off in June, allows young patrons to work off $5 of fees per hour of reading and has already seen tremendous results. According to Darcy Hastings, the county's assistant library administrator for youth services, the library system has already managed to reinstate 3500 previously blocked accounts because of its new “Read Away” policy. (Any account owing $10 or more in fees is automatically suspended.) Though it might not seem like a ton of money, owing even just a few dollars can be enough to dissuade a child from tapping the library as a resource for learning.

"When charges accrue on a young person's account, generally, they don't pay the charges and they don't use the card," Hastings said. "A few dollars on their accounts means they stop using library services."

Aleah Jurnecka, the children’s librarian at East L.A. Library, says that they’re seeing at least 100 students per week come in to "Read Away" their fees—and Medina is a prime example. Though she, too, loves computer games and uses the internet for homework, her voracious love of reading makes her stand out among her peers.

"She's using some words at home that other kids her age don't know if they're using tablets and not building their vocabulary," Yeimi Cortez, Medina’s cousin, told the Los Angeles Times.


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