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Why Libraries Matter

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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.”
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“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.

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The Internet Archive // Public Domain
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History
Man Claims He Decoded the Voynich Manuscript, But Experts Don't Buy It
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The Internet Archive // Public Domain

Nicholas Gibbs, a historian and TV writer, claims he has solved one of the most confounding mysteries facing medieval scholars—one that has stumped researchers for at least 100 years. The handwritten Voynich manuscript was written in a still-unknown language (and alphabet) sometime around the 15th century, and features illustrations of plants that, for the most part, scientists haven't been able to identify. Theories about why it was created in the first place are still just speculative. But according to Gibbs, it's about women's health. In a recent issue of The Times Literary Supplement, Gibbs claims to have cracked the code to translating the Voynich.

The problem? Most scholars who specialize in medieval texts and linguistics say he's full of hot air, according to The Atlantic. If Gibbs had sent his theory to the Yale library that holds the manuscript, "they would have rebutted it in a heartbeat," the Medieval Academy of America's Lisa Fagin Davis, a professor of manuscript studies, told The Atlantic.

The Voynich manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a rare book dealer who bought it in 1912, bringing it back into the public eye after it was forgotten for centuries. According to Gibbs, it is a “reference book of selected remedies lifted from the standard treatises of the medieval period, an instruction manual for the health and wellbeing of the more well to do women in society, which was quite possibly tailored to a single individual.” To support his translation, Gibbs argues that every letter in the manuscript is not just a letter, but a Latin abbreviation for a word, like how the ampersand was formed out of the letter "e" and "t," for the Latin "et," or "and."

Gibbs only provides two lines of decoded text to support his hypothesis, but in Latin, the decryption doesn't make grammatical sense. Many of his other revelations about the book, such as similarities in its illustrations to the "Balneis Puteolanis" ("The Baths of Pozzuoli")—a 13th-century poem that served as a guide to thermal baths—have already circulated among those studying the manuscript. Voynich obsessives have previously pointed out that the illustrations indicate that the manuscript probably has something to do with health, for instance. So even beyond the translation attempts, his theory on the whole isn't entirely groundbreaking.

A fold-out from the Voynich manuscript shows circular, decorative illustrations.
The Internet Archive // Public Domain

For years, linguists, cryptographers, theoretical physicists, computer scientists, amateur detectives, and others have been working on breaking the code. During World War II, some of the U.S. Army's cryptanalysts even spent some of their off hours trying (in vain) to crack it.

Gibbs isn't the only person to claim he has solved at least part of the mystery. In 2014, British linguist Stephen Bax proposed a partial decoding of just 10 words, including the word for Taurus near an illustration of part of the constellation. Earlier this year, medievalist Stephen Skinner claimed to have pinned down the origins of the author, who he believes was a Jewish doctor in northern Italy. On the other hand, some scholars argue that the book is meaningless, and is just one big hoax.

If you want to get in on the search for the book's meaning (provided one exists), you don't need to flip through online scans of the manuscript. It was recently released in replica for the first time.

[h/t The Atlantic]

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The Rocky Mountain Land Library, Kickstarter  
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travel
A Colorado Ranch Is Being Transformed Into a 'Land Library'
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The Rocky Mountain Land Library, Kickstarter  

A traditional library offers books that can transport readers to different worlds. A land library does the opposite: Instead of containing a broad scope of reading material, it's limited to books about the land just beyond its walls.

That's the model followed by the Rocky Mountain Land Library in Colorado, a project recently profiled by CityLab. At the Land Library, artists, writers, researchers, and anyone else interested in the area can come to enjoy immersive retreats. Inside the buildings they'll find beds, dining facilities, and about 35,000 books on the culture, landscapes, and wildlife of the American West. If guests wish to further their education on the subject, all they have to do is walk outside and explore the sprawling former cattle ranch the lodge is built on.

Books about the American West on a shelf.
Michael Ciaglo, Kickstarter

The library's founders, Jeff Lee and Ann Martin, came up with the idea after visiting a library-hostel hybrid in Wales. As employees of the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, they were both excited by the thought of creating a library that connected travelers to where they were staying.

After finding the perfect ranch to launch their experiment and raising money for renovations via Kickstarter, Lee and Martin are now in the process of preparing the property for visitors. The first building—which will include bedrooms, a kitchen, a classroom, and the start of the library—is set to be finished by the summer of 2018. Until then, Lee and Martin are using the space to host summer workshops for people coming to Colorado in search of inspiration.

[h/t CityLab]

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