I really like libraries (if that wasn’t obvious, you know…being a librarian and all). They are the cornerstone of intellectual freedom, you can read anything in a modern American library, even if it is controversial, “banned,” or frowned upon by some corner of society. They are a home away from home where tired readers can take refuge from reality. They are community centers designed to bring people with similar interests together.
There is something more to libraries than that though, something magical in the potential of knowledge and undiscovered worlds hiding silently in rough wood pulp pages and stark black ink. Though the physical volumes themselves are still, merely objects, they posses a kind of kinetic energy brimming with possibility – for lack of a better word, a soul.
According to the American Library Association there are an estimated 119, 487 libraries in America, maybe more. To put that in perspective, there are only approximately 35,000 McDonald’s restaurants (using the term restaurant loosely here) world wide. We LOVE our libraries, and always have. The earliest libraries, archives of clay tablets of cuniform script consisting mostly of trade and inventory records, would still be recognizable as a library to the modern patron. How cool is that!?
The library is synonymous with human civilization, and we happen to have some pretty cool books on the subject.
Remember how I said a modern library patron would be able to recognize even the earliest libraries? Well that does not go both ways. Heck, most people today wouldn’t recognize these spaces as libraries. The world of information has evolved with the introduction of the internet and digital content and Improbably Libraries showcases the exciting and surprising ways in which the library has evolved with it.
Part of Our Lives : A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne A. Wiegand
There has been a prevailing worry that libraries were on their way out due to the wealth of information on the internet. However the numbers of libraries has actually increased since the turn of the Millennium. Instead of recounting librarian’s view of the library, Part of Our Lives uses the testimonials of patrons going as far back as the 1850’s to explain why the library is important, and will stay important, to Americans.
Libricide by Rebecca Knuth
“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” – Heinrich Heine
This FASCINATING, though dark and depressing, book looks at the connection between the crack down of intellectual freedom – especially libraries – and the rise of vicious political regimes that end in violence and death. Knuth examines Nazi Germany, Nazis, Serbs in Bosnia, Iraqis in Kuwait, Maoists during the Cultural Revolution in China, and Chinese Communists in Tibet. Along with the historical case studies, she also examines why some people believe book burning is good for society, even outside of brutal regimes. Something a bibliophile like me has always struggled to comprehend.
In 1950 Oklahoma librarian Ruth Brown was dismissed from her position after thirty years of service. The people who made the decision to terminate Miss Brown’s position argued that she had circulated subversive materials when in reality she was targeted for forming a group affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality. Her story reveals the values of the McCarthy era, foregrounding those who labored for racial justice, sometimes at great cost. It reveals a masking of concerns that led even Brown’s allies to obscure the cause of racial integration for which she fought. Relevant today, Ruth Brown’s story helps us understand the matrix of personal, community, state, and national forces that can lead to censorship, intolerance, and the suppression of individual rights.
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
This book is as emotional about libraries as I am. Inspired by Manguel building a library for his 15th century home in France (lucky devil) he romanticizes the role of collecting, organizing, preserving, and providing guidance to books. Manguel delves deep into history exploring the doomed libraries of the ancient world from Greece and Alexandria to China and the Arab world while also making a personal journey back to his childhood bookshelf and his first trips to the public library. He explores stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought—the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest; oral “memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, and a library of books never written.