Sunday, August 14, 2011

Think About Libraries

There are a number of problems in the United States: dysfunctional governments, failing public education programs, problematic justice systems, and an unmanageable national name just a few. These aren't new issues.

We Americans have gotten cocky, thinking that because we were once the "greatest" country, we always will be. Writes poet Charles Simic in a May, 2011, article, A Country Without Libraries: "[Our nation] 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." He's referring to the large number of public libraries that have been closed down all over the country. When I was visiting Pasadena (CA) earlier this summer, I was saddened to see the large empty building that used to be a Borders bookstore. But Borders Group, Inc. is a corporation--I have very little sympathy for corporations. Libraries, on the other hand, are a public necessity. A closed-down empty building is sad, but an empty library is a crime. Not illegal, but it should be.

Libraries are part of many of my fondest childhood memories. Whenever I picture my elementary school, my mind's eye goes directly to the library. I remember it as the most well-lit and friendliest place in the school. Rainy days made the rest of the school seem dreary. Not the library though.

In the summers, it seemed like I spent much of my time at public libraries, in my own city and in the towns in Iowa and Indiana where either set of grandparents lived. I inhaled books, sometimes several "chapter books" a day. Encyclopedia Brown. Nancy Drew. The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Aldo Applesauce. And Ramona Quimby, of course. And that's just off the top of my head.

I was in awe when Stan and Jan Berenstain (of Berenstain Bears fame) came to our public library when I was five or six. These were the writers/artists who created the bears that I felt I knew as though they were my real friends! Brother Bear and Sister Bear went through the same things--first days of school, new friends, etc.--as I did. Meeting their creators was inspiring. A couple of years later, author Daniel Pinkwater came to the library. Another year, it was author Marc Brown.

My first semester in college was a disaster. I was several states away from home and had a roommate who disliked me to the point of making my world as miserable as possible. I spent almost all of my time in the college library, only returning to the dorm to sleep. I read constantly--it was my only means of escape. (As a result, I also aced that semester!)

Fast-forward to the late '90s, living on my own, after college. I had an apartment that was freezing in the winter and way too hot in the summer, but I could walk the three blocks or so to the public library. And that's exactly what I did almost every other day after work. I decided right then that I always had to live within walking distance to a library (and, except for one lone year, I always have).

When I read Simic's article, I realized I was not alone in my sentiments. He states: "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 am not of Simic's generation, but I concur with his statement. If libraries continue to close due to lack of funding, what will happen to current and future generations' wealth (or poverty?) of knowledge?

As I've mentioned in previous entries, I started this blog in part because I have observed that people (in general; Americans, in particular) are getting stupider. It seems as though we've let the generations before us do all the work, and now we are coasting along as if everything is peachy--never bothering to analyze situations, think independently, take a stand, or act ethically. Obviously I'm generalizing, and I'll never claim to know the way to correct our broken systems. All I know is that we need to think about what is wrong, take a stand against unethical practices, and do something to make a change.

Writing and thinking are what I know how to do.