Last week, I woke one morning to find that a friend of mine, fellow author Kate Messner, had been disinvited at the last minute from speaking at a school in my town. I was stunned at first, and then relieved when I learned it was not “my” elementary school that had rescinded its invitation, though still taken aback that this had happened at all so close to home. Kate and many others have done a fantastic job exploring the many issues raised by this episode in detail here and here, but more generally, this incident brought home to me the importance of libraries.
When touring my daughter’s school for the first time, I was nervous—it didn’t feel terribly homey, there was an abundance of cinderblock hallway—and then we got to the library. Oh, that library. There are cozy reading nooks, a LEGO wall, and fish tanks, and so many books, books everywhere. I knew right then that everything would be wonderful for my kids in this place.
Each week, my daughter comes home with library books from that lovely place—invariably, she chooses books she thinks her brother will like, which I find adorable. We also go to the town library and spend hours reading and collecting books, playing with the creative toys, checking out the educational games on the library computers, and choosing which box containing books and toys arranged by theme, such as “space” and “penguins,” to take home. I have carted home piles of books for myself, some special ordered from afar, for research for my books. And sometimes, it’s not even the text, but the book itself that gets me. During college, a professor and I were able to peruse a first edition of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in the school’s rare books collection. I remember writing my Note during law school and flipping through hundred-year-old tomes in the attic of the library, some secured with red ribbons that crumbled a bit when untied.
Most importantly, libraries are where you can find librarians. A librarian can help you find the book you are looking for, but they can also help you find the book you didn’t yet know you were looking for, the book you need.
I say all this to note the magic of the library—that you can find the most wonderful and rare treasures there, and you can take them home (not the Kant, alas). You can explore ideas, find friends and go on adventures, all in the space of a few pages, all for free. It’s a place where you are expected to be quiet and still and contemplative. Where when you’re lost or need help, there’s a librarian there to guide you. It’s a haven for thinking and feeling and dreaming, and we don’t have many places like that left in the world.
Last weekend, I returned to my alma mater for reunion weekend and had the opportunity to tour the mind-blowingly beautiful library it has built for its students. As I and my fellow reunioners wandered around, we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the many different spaces the school created for reading and studying, the rooms added for maker spaces and group study, and then the bizarre time travel room on the bottom level, which seemed ripped from the past (and indeed was a room saved from the old building and rebuilt in the new) and also reminiscent of Hogwarts in the best way. Oh, to have studied in this space, we all muttered, fingers trailing over the wood and glass. What magic could we have made here?
I am so thrilled and honored to be launching the Fletcher Free Library’s Summer Reading Program next Friday. Please come and join me in that wonderful space. I promise, we will make some magic—or at least some mischief—on the page.