Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Best Institution Ever Invented, or Thank You Benjamin Franklin

I take my son to the library to get his first card.  As we pull a bunch of books, movies, and cds from the shelves, he becomes increasingly concerned and finally says, “Daddy, we can’t afford all of these.”  I explain, “They’ll let us take them.  For free.”  His expression turns to amazement as if he can’t believe this is true.  When I explain, “But we have to take care of them, and we have to bring them back,” he nods and says, “That’s fair.”

I know how my son feels.  Forty years after getting my own first card (at the Shawnee Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana), I still feel a sense of amazement at having access to so many materials.  It is almost, as Vizzini says in Princess Bride, “inconceivable.”  Wait, you’re going to let me take home anything in here?  For free?  What’s the catch?

Lending libraries are beautiful in their basic ideals.  In enabling people to educate themselves, they are the most empowering and humanistic of institutions.

In a very real way, libraries have shaped who I am, so perhaps it’s not surprising that when I gave my wife a tour of places where I grew up, it turned out to be, in part, a tour of libraries.  Some of these were run down.  Some no longer existed.  None of them were architectural wonders.  Yet I loved each one because when I walked in I felt a sense of possibility.

I still feel it.

This is a part of a fuller post for The Library As Incubator project.  The entire piece can be seen here.

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