Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Reading: Sanctuary Amid the Stacks

library-booksWhen was the last time you were in a library? Were still in college? Or did you do some afternoon readings of Goodnight Moon for the local elementary school?

I had a library card to the Free Library of Philadelphia last year. I borrowed a few books: some David Foster Wallace, Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games, the frustrating pre/sequel Ender in Exile. I occasionally parked myself at a table, killing an hour before work on my laptop. It was relaxing. It was easy. Most importantly, it was free.

When local governments need to cut costs, they inevitably turn their eyes to libraries. “Do we really need these places?” frugal lawmakers wonder. “My kids don’t even read books.”

We do need them, believes Pico Iyer. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Iyer urges LA citizens to vote yes on a measure that will ensure funding for their local libraries. With it, they can remain open more often and provide useful programming for their community such as tutoring and adult literacy courses. Iyer also encourages us to remember the intangibles of libraries:

“It's the rare place in our public life that is, officially at least, as silent as church.

It's often as full of reverence, too. I go to the Los Angeles Central Library to hear Orhan Pamuk and Salman Rushdie speak; to meet the kind of people who, by their appearance there, are clearly like-minded souls and to be reminded, in an unanswerable physical form, of a wisdom that stretches back centuries.

In a world ever more given over to solitary, onscreen pursuits, the library is where, ironically, we're taken out of ourselves (as we're not when reading at home) and brought into a wider circle of (often inward-looking and private) others.”

If a library memorandum makes the ballot in your area, follow Iyer’s advice and support these hallowed houses of books.