Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Power and Necessity of Libraries



“Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.”   

                    Ray Bradbury, writer   

“A society-any society-is defined and measured by its set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions: public schools, public libraries, public transportation,.....”   

                    Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich   

"Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library."   
                  Historian Barbara Tuchman   

     One of the things I love about April is that it is a month of wonderful becomings. So many of the trees and plants are blooming now, and walking the neighborhoods is truly joyous. Rosebuds, Cheery trees, daffodils, tulips and more have survived the recent overnight freezes we had, and are bringing bright colors to streets, yards, and in planters. The planet in many ways is seemingly being re-born, both in the earth and even in the sky. There was a full moon on Thursday, April 6, a hybrid eclipse in the Southern Hemisphere on April 20, The Lyrid Meteor Showers on April 22-23, and a chance to see Saturn next to the moon overnight on April 15 and 16. Both the planet and the sky were especially active last month.

It is fitting that April is also a month of numerous faith celebrations that speak of glorious births, renewal, and continuances. It is a time in many belief systems for reflection, re-commitment, and going forward in a renewed way into the world. Easter and Passover happen this month, and they both are about the miraculous birth of belief systems, their renewal, and their continuance. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism also have holidays and observances that speak to these important concepts. The idea of “emerging” is deeply rooted in each of these traditions. We go inside, and through this process are able to emerge renewed.  

For me, April also has important observations on the societal front that call for us to reflect and then move forward. It can be a time for us to come together and pay attention to things that have probably not been at the front of our consciousness. April features National Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, National Child Abuse Awareness Month, National Earth Month, and more that speak to Robert Reich's old-style notion of a society that involves citizens in working together and looking out for and helping each other. There are the types of problems for which we need a village working together in order to make progress in our society. It is how important progress has been made throughout our history.  

Two of the most important of those type of observances to me are National Library Week, April 23-29, and National Library Workers Day, April 25, especially considering what is going on now in so many places in our country. People who know me and/or read this newsletter know that books, libraries, museums and such are things that have been big part of my life since my childhood, and that they have helped me become the person I am today. Quite simply, I am a library guy. I got my first Philadelphia Free Library card when I was in 2nd grade, and over sixty five years later, I still have, and regularly use one. When my wife and I retired in 2015 she re-opened a public-school library at the Kelly School in Germantown. I no longer volunteer there, but it is still going strong. And I regularly donate to the Philadelphia and New York City public libraries, for libraries and their workers have been quiet mainstays of my life.

 Libraries matter to me, especially public ones.  They were where I first discovered many authors, artists, and musicians that I have come to love and think of as life-long friends. I would read the names of writers, musicians, artists and songwriters in newspapers, magazines, in books, on book jackets, or on recordings. I would then go to the library to read them or hear them, and a new love affair would start. Maps, art history, poetry, history-whatever I became interested in, the library was there with materials and, very importantly, librarians who helped me delve into and encounter new ideas and ways of thinking about and viewing the world. That continues today.  

  The library is often one of those things that people tend to take for granted, but it is often one of the very first institutions to positively respond to the things going on in society. It almost always interacts with us in powerful and supportive ways. Nothing proves that more than how they have responded to the COVID pandemic over the last three years. They have found ways to allow people to reserve, borrow and return books and materials, even if they were not openThey have provided numerous Zoom and streaming Meet the Author Events, classes, webinars, storytelling sessions, and more. They have increased links to online reference books, movies, and articles. They have found ways to maintain important special interactions with public schools and they have provided special educational resources for kids who are being home-schooled. How they have adapted to and kept themselves available for use during this crazy time has been nothing short of remarkable. They have managed to add computers, ebooks, homework clubs, digital platforms, after-school programs, English learning classes, tax help, help in looking for a job and much, much more.  

     I am thinking about this now as the news is full of accounts of politicians actively working to limit what people, particularly teens and young students, have access to and can learn and hear about. Books in some places are being banned and removed from school and public libraries. This type of censorship is not new or unique to the United States. But it has been some decades since it has been as upfront and widespread as it is nowOne of the unfortunate things that all authoritarian rule does is try to seize control of and change institutions-limiting or changing what they are allowed to do. Throughout history civilizations often repeat their mistakes. And we seem to be doing that again, particularly with our public schools and libraries.   

   Libraries are, to me, one of the greatest institutions we have in any civilization. All civilizations have had them, going way back to ancient times. If you have been positively affected by the library and/or if your kids have had important experiences there, I urge you to donate to your local library and to take a role in helping them fight the political winds that are turning curiosity and learning into political hand grenades. Let’s celebrate National Library Week and Library Workers Day by showing how much they mean to you. They need us now, and we have to be part of Robert Reich’s mutual support so that we continue to have a full past and a variety of possible futures.   

To donate to the Philadelphia Free Library:   

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