Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Public Libraries

Charles Simic:
I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut-down library. No matter how modest its building or its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal library is often the only place where books in large number on every imaginable subject can be found, where both grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace, free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home.
I am a devotee of public libraries and always have been. I think the public library is one of the great creations of the modern, democratic age. Through the public library, the government uses money from taxation to provide all the people with access to information that in prior ages was limited to the very rich, and the residents of certain fortunate monasteries. No doubt libertarians think it is a crime to steal from the rich to buy books for the poor. To which I can only reply, that is what democracy means.

Top to bottom: Library built by ex-slaves, Allensworth, California; Los Angeles Central Library; Death Valley National Park. All from The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson. More here.

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