Thursday, May 8, 2014

For the Love of Libraries

Way way back in 1880, Andrew Carnegie had an idea that would shape the future of America, arguably as much as his rail lines did. Beginning with the first investment of $40,000 to fund a public library in Dunfermline. From there, Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation would go on to invest tens of millions of dollars building public libraries, ultimately being responsible for building 2,509 libraries. *  My great aunt used to house a small public library in her home, which she often joked was the smallest of the Carnegie endowed libraries. Whether it was actually a Carnegie library, or if she just liked to say that, I will never know, as she passed away last autumn. Nonetheless, in her hill-less town of less of than 200, the impact of the movement toward public libraries was keenly felt by the children who could walk down the gravel road to her house after school, browse the few shelves, and pick out a book or two to borrow. Those few shelves of books transformed their world from the flat fields of rice and mosquitoes into boundless territories of information and adventure, where the horizon wasn't the drainage ditch, and their dreams of somewhere distant weren't limited to the shack along the rail line that sold penny candy.

For me, libraries are a fundamental piece of education and community, so this week, I found two stories particularly moving. First, the story highlighted by BBC's Outlook program on May 7th, of Antonio La Cava. La Cava, a retired schoolteacher, possessed with a love of reading and an evangelical mission to spread the love of reading in "Il Bibliomotocarro" by traveling t
he south of Italy, to remote villages in his lovingly hand-built library on wheels, to share books with the children who do not otherwise have easy access to libraries.

Second, the story of how a community came together in a human chain to move the contents of the library in Stanton, Iowa. When the library had completely outgrown it's former home- a tiny old bank- and was moving into a new building some four times the size, over 400 community members, ranging from infants and toddlers, to the retired, with a heavy dose of school children in the mix, came together to span the distance between the buildings, passing thousands of books, hand to hand, from their original home to waiting carts at their new home. Sure, the community group did not get the whole job done, but the did get the bulk of it done, and most importantly, they pulled together for a common cause, and not a single one of those children will forget the day they moved the library, shepherding the books they've read and the books they will read safely from one home to the next, and seeing how important the library, and those books were and are to the hundreds of community members who shared in the experience.

Libraries are a fundamental piece of how we share information and come together as a community, and every time I see a story about libraries bringing people together and creative ways to share the love of reading, my faith in humanity is again restored.

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