From the time I was born, my family moved around a lot. Perhaps not as much as some military brats I knew, but we moved enough to keep me off balance. But one place I’ve always felt at home are at libraries. Particularly public libraries, which possess just the right mix of familiarity (thank you, Dewey Decimal system) and exploration.
I particularly enjoy older urban libraries housed in architecturally detailed buildings, some with gargoyles! These libraries have often existed in the same location for many, many years. When I enter such a library, I get hit with a wonderful aroma of books that can’t be found in suburban or rural climate-controlled facilities. The only other place I’ve found that engaging smell is older independent bookstores.
I also enjoy university and special collections libraries for expanding that wonder. Anything I want to know can be found in a library. Yes, I know Google has similar capabilities, and I might have a panic attack of historic proportions were Google to vanish, but libraries possess information and knowledge that hasn’t made its way to Google yet.
The public library is the great equalizer. Anyone can go there. Anyone can check out books. Knowledge is shared. I believe that without libraries, literacy would be in real trouble.
I’ve often written about famed early aviator Bessie Coleman, who as an adult learned French so that she could study aviation and get her pilot’s license in France. Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language as an adult? It’s hard. But Bessie had little choice as an African American woman in the early 20th century.
As a child in rural Texas, Bessie loved school. She loved it so much that she didn’t mind the four-mile walk she had to make to get there (not to mention the four-mile walk home). But there were often times that she couldn’t go to school. When it was time to harvest the cotton. When she had to take care of a sibling who had fallen ill, because her mother couldn’t spare a day off from work.
But Bessie had a traveling wagon library that she could borrow books from. She read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and about the life of Booker T. Washington. I firmly believe that having an available library helped Bessie Coleman become one of the first licensed African American pilots in the U.S.
Even with the Internet, I spend a lot of time in libraries. I do it for work and for recreation. I research existing projects, get ideas for new ones, discover new authors, and enjoy current favorites.
So, thank you, Benjamin Franklin and friends. You had a great idea.
Happy National Library Week!