National Library Week
There are a lot of National This Days or That Weeks – periods of time set aside to celebrate a person or a group of people, an event, or an institution that has special meaning for us. This week, we’re celebrating one of my favorites, something we all too often take for granted – the library. A good library is the heart of a good community.
One of life’s real pleasures is curling up with a good book – a simple pleasure – or maybe not. It seems simple enough: select a book (preferably a nice thick one), find a comfortable chair, add a cozy quilt to tuck around yourself, snuggle in – and lose yourself in another world – actually two other worlds.
Your outer self luxuriates in the tactile sensation of the book in your hands as your eyes skim over a page covered by a series of funny little squiggles that, through the ages and the ingenuity of man, have been organized into something called writing. Each squiggle is a symbol that represents a sound. Grouped together, they form words. Combined with other words, they convey ideas, thoughts, emotions, knowledge and, in the best of times, wisdom.
Your inner self takes this amazing accomplishment for granted while it travels to another place – maybe to Czarist Russia with Anna Karenina, maybe to Jazz Age America with Jay Gatsby or maybe it stays close to home and delves into the psyche of a person of another race or another gender. This journey of the inner self can take you to another century – long past or far into the future. You can visit another planet or another universe. You can become part of a colony of rabbits or soar over the earth in the form of a seagull. Wherever you go, whatever guise you assume, you’re likely to experience something that will enhance your appreciation of the world to which you eventually return.
All of this happens because, somewhere in our history, human beings agreed that a line shaped in a certain way represents a certain sound. Simple, and yet amazing, especially when you consider that, as a species, we tend to disagree about almost everything.
Surely this is man’s most important invention. Compared with the written word, the wheel is trivial. Assembling the stories created by our words into treasures that we call books was another giant step forward. But not all books are stories. Some are filled with raw information that can be analyzed and assembled to help us understand our world and make it better. Some tell of past mistakes so that we can avoid repeating them.
Books are my favorite part of the library, but they are far from being the only attraction. The number of ways in which ideas are being dispersed and experienced is growing with bewildering speed. Libraries and writers are faced with choices unimaginable a few years ago. Some of the choices may not be wise, but that’s okay. As mankind has always done, we’ll learn from our mistakes, try something else, and (I type with crossed fingers) move ever closer to the best of times.
The idea to build libraries so that our stories and our knowledge could be preserved and shared – brilliant! Well worth celebrating.