From the earliest scholastic archives of writing at Ugarit of Ancient Egypt, libraries have been models for the world and models of the world; they’ve offered stimulation and contemplation, opportunities for togetherness as well as a kind of civic solitude. They’ve acted as gathering points for lively minds and as sites of seclusion and solace. Indeed, they’ve provided what could be considered the perfect sanctuary for books and the written word.
Yet today, libraries in the UK and the USA – and elsewhere around the world – are closing at a startling rate.
Perhaps a reason for this is that we are forgetting the value of the public library – a place where you can spend hours reading books for free all thanks to the simple library card.
It is most welcome, therefore, that the Troy Public Library in Michigan, USA, has recently released some of the letters local school children received from famous politicians, writers, artists and scientists when the library first opened in 1971, urging the children to cherish their new library.
From astronaut Neil Armstrong to the pope and Dr Seuss, here are some of their letters praising the importance of libraries:
- “If you have books, you have everything” – Kingsley Amis
Novelist, poet, critic and – perhaps most importantly – teacher, Sir Kingsley Amis points out that if you have any interest in knowing who you are and what you are, the library is the best place to start.
- “Knowledge is fundamental to all human achievement and progress” – Neil Armstrong
Two years after taking mankind’s first steps on the moon, Neil Armstrong urges the children of Troy to visit their library often and explore the books on its shelves, because “each book holds an experience and an adventure” and it is the knowledge held within books that “brought men to the moon”.
- “A library is a place where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts” – EB White
The man who taught us about the ecstasy of reading and gave us timeless advice on the science of beautiful writing, the magnificent EB White, explains that a library is good for so many things – a place to find encouragement and comfort, and a perfect place to visit if you feel bewildered or undecided.
- “May such good work for young people continue and prosper” – Pope Paul VI
Not one to “accede” to requests contained in letters, the letter to the school children of Troy from the Secretary to Pope Paul VI contained a handwritten note from the pontiff.
- “Read! Read! Read!”
Good advice – would you ever expect anything else? – from Dr Seuss.
- “Some of the most important knowledge you will gain both as a child and an adult will come from the enriching experience of reading” – First Lady Pat Nixon
Writing on White House stationary, First Lady Pat Nixon notes that Abraham Lincoln became the man he was largely because of the hours and time he spent reading books as a child.
- “A library is like a roomful of friends” – Mary Welsh Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, explains how valuable libraries are for sharing ideas, impressions and conclusions. But, most importantly, she points out that a library “offers lifelong friendship that never fails”
- “A world without books would be a world without light” – Ronald Reagan
Years before his presidency, Ronald Reagan triumphs the value of the public library when he points out how, “without spending a penny, one can travel to the ends of the earth, the depths of the oceans and now, through the infinity of space”. It’s perhaps ironic that the man who played a key role in stripping away the state, selling every state asset for profit, commoditising everything in the name of profit and for the extols the virtues of an essentially socialist project; but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
- “A library is a time machine” – Isaac Asimov
Acclaimed Science Fiction author, Isaac Asimov, uses a suitably Sci-Fi analogy when he tells the children of Troy that a library is a gateway “to a better and happier and more useful life”.
Thanks to the librarian
We have these wonderful testaments to the power and importance of libraries thanks to one woman – librarian Marguerite Hart.
Hart wrote to dozens of actors, authors, artists, musicians, playwrights, librarians, and politicians of the day. She asked them to write a letter to the children of Troy about their memories of reading and of books, and the importance of libraries.
She received 97 Letters to the Children of Troy from individuals who spanned the arts, sciences, and politics across the 50 states, Canada, and several other countries. They are now all available via the Troy Public Library website.
If you’ve been moved by the idylls expressed in these letters, why not head over to your local library. You could use it to finally read those books you haven’t read (even if you say you have) and maybe they’ll help you better understand what literature is actually for.