A Country Without Libraries
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside
of a dog, it’s too dark to read. – Groucho Marx
All across the United States, large and small cities are
closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of
operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of
its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will
undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When
you count the families all over this country who don’t have
computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on
the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences
will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about
these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions.
But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers,
policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in
both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what
happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The
greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no
longer has the political will to arrest its visible and
precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the
workings of our democracy depend.
I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight
of a shut down library. No matter how modest its building or
its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal
library is often the only place where books in large number
on every imaginable subject can be found, where both
grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace,
free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them
outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe
much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from
public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of
awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among
the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my
leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my
fancy, bring it home. Not just some thriller or serious
novel, but also big art books and recordings of everything
from jazz to operas and symphonies.
In Oak Park, Illinois, when I was in high school, I went to
the library two or three times a week, though in my classes
I was a middling student. Even in wintertime, I’d walk the
dozen blocks to the library, often in rain or snow, carrying
a load of books and records to return, trembling with
excitement and anticipation at all the tantalizing books
that awaited me there. The kindness of the librarians, who,
of course, all knew me well, was also an inducement. They
were happy to see me read so many books, though I’m sure
they must have wondered in private about my vast and
mystifying range of interests.
One Comment to ““A Country Without Libraries””
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