I read today that libraries in Camden, New Jersey are closing down. One article said the books will be destroyed as they would be a fire hazard in storage. There is no money in city budgets anymore. We are going backwards, away from civilization now. The corruption, bloated spending and rape of taxpayers has finally caught up with municipalities. The spending has to stop. Consequently, the American system that once worked brilliantly and gave us the beauty of free public libraries, is collapsing.
My mother was one of those Americans who benefited so richly from that system. She grew up in the Missouri Ozarks and attended a one-room schoolhouse at a place called Independence. Once a week, a van would come rumbling down the road from a nearby town library. A package of books would be delivered and last week’s batch would be taken back. Mom said the books sat on top of the piano, and she read each and every one. She was given the priceless gift of literacy in that Ozark schoolhouse (that didn’t even have indoor plumbing), and she learned about the world through the books delivered by that old van. That is how I learned to love books, because Mom passed her love on and took us to the library.
The thought of a library shut down, its riches destroyed and the door locked, makes me cry, quite literally. My earliest memories are of Finney Library in the heart of Milwaukee, not far from where we lived. The library had the same early readers available as my school used, so I brought them home and practiced my reading until I could fly through a page. After that, I owned the place. The library is gone now, but I can still smell and see that children’s reading room, including the green tile floor, as clearly as if it were yesterday. I remember painstakingly writing down my library card number on the little cards I had to give to the librarian.
I read the Five Little Peppers, the Happy Hollisters, the Bobbsey Twins (I disliked those twins after a while), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Under the Lilacs, A Little Princess, Mandy, The Secret Garden, All of a Kind Family (the whole series), and so many more. As I got older, around fourth grade, I started getting interested in biographies. I became obsessed with the Presidency of John F. Kennedy and his assassination. (A dark topic, but historically interesting.) I read every book about it I could find, both at the school library and the public library, and then headed to the adult section. I quickly learned that there were even greater riches there on the subject.
In fifth grade, I read Death of a President by William Manchester about the last 6 days of Kennedy’s life. I was forever convinced that history was truly fascinating and that real life accounts were far more interesting than fiction. My reading compulsion, however, came with a price tag. My reading was up to Manchester’s work, but my emotional state was not really able to handle all that was being taken in. Moms and dads of precociously reading children need to be aware that some good oversight and discussion on subject matter is necessary to help children process what they’re absorbing. I remember grieving for days for poor Caroline ad John John when I saw the photo of the state funeral.
Maybe libraries are viewed as obsolete now in the age of the Internet and things like Kindle. They will never be obsolete for me. I don’t go there for the wi-fi, the DVD’s, the CD’s or anything else but the books. I love the quiet and being surrounded by my friends on the shelves. Books are really some of the best friends around. They wait patiently for you to pick them up again, they never complain, and they bring inestimable comfort at times.
I have started buying used copies of my old favorites from childhood for Emily. Many are disappearing and are out of print now. The Beany Malone series is one of my latest acquisitions. I loved those books in junior high. Lenora Mattingly Weber wrote these interesting stories about life in the Malone family. With no mother and a busy newspaper man for a father, the young people in that family had to be creative to take care of each other. The books follow Beany from age 13 to motherhood. It presents a slice of American life back in the 40′s onward. They were for sale on Amazon for something like $6 each. I will confess that I have been enjoying them before bed. Just like I used to back in 7th grade!
I hope and pray that libraries will stay open, and that not all the good books will be replaced with trash. The sad truth is that when any culture declines, libraries become a direct reflection of that. Sadly, many children’s sections now offer books, fiction and non-fiction, that are a reflection of the moral squalor that dominates our culture. Get the good old books used while you can. Someday soon, they may all disappear from view.
P.S. If I had a chance to go back, I’d get a degree in library science. I can’t think of a job I would have loved more.