It wasn’t yet 10:00am, but parking spaces were filling up fast. The library would open soon.
Be-bopping up the sidewalk, dressed completely in black, ear buds stuffed under his knitted cap, came the happiest Goth in high-tops. A young mother followed behind, a stack of books awkwardly balanced under one arm, and a wiggly baby in the other. The time was 9:58.
Older folks, hipsters, Lexus drivers, the tattooed poor–all queued together for their morning stop at the public library. How remarkably American.
When the doors finally did slide open, this society of seekers disappeared inside, striding with purpose to stake their domain. A no-nonsense aura filled the air as each card holder claimed their chair, booth, or computer to commence their business.
If ever there existed a reflection of perfect democracy it is America’s neighborhood library.
Visits make a lot sense. The facility is clean, climate controlled and the interior is well lit for reading and research.
More, public libraries offer a multitude of services for the community. The unemployed gets out of the house, and can search job openings on the internet, maybe check out a DVD or two at no cost. For the housing insecure, the interior offers sanctuary, a chance to safely close one’s eyes or relax and catch up on some reading. Mothers toting little ones make use of programs such as story-time, organized games and crafts, providing a diversion from hours at home.
My own elderly parents used to check out their book limit every two weeks. The librarian knew them well, suggested titles, and bagged up their books. They, too, waited in the parking lot. When those doors glided apart, canes in hand, they hobbled inside, joining the democratic wave claiming library privileges.
It was Benjamin Franklin who modeled this fixture in America’s beginnings. Franklin knew national longevity demanded literacy, and in that spirit he established the first lending library in Colonial Philadelphia. A true visionary, Dr. Franklin set the course for public good by founding these centers of learning. If he could see what I saw in that library parking lot, Franklin would rest a gratified patriot.
Next to public schools, a library card is the ultimate equalizer–from the richest to the poorest among us. No amount of status or money can elbow us out. My access is equal to yours.
To politicians fearful of books on the shelf, you strike a blow not only against the First Amendment, but to all the connecting tissue of American society. A misguided, self-righteous streak exposes a dark agenda which should give us all pause. Attacking libraries attacks us all.
Gail Chumbley is the author of two books, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle. Chumbley has also authored two stage plays, “Clay,” and “Wolf By The Ears.”