"Libraries are the best literacy resource we have," says Malorie Blackman (the current Children's Laureate of Great Britain) in a recent article penned for The Guardian. "For children they provide an equaliser that allows everyone access to books, story-telling sessions, homework clubs; expert librarians who give non-partisan assistance and advice regarding books; and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature. Libraries switch children on to a love of reading, with all the ensuing benefits, and can make them lifelong readers. Without them, literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone."
"Libraries," as Rebecca Solnit describes them, "are sanctuaries from the world and command centers onto it: here in the quiet rooms are the lives of Crazy Horse and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Hundred Years' War and the Opium Wars and the Dirty War, the ideas of Simone Weil and Lao-Tzu, information on building your sailboat or dissolving your marriage, fictional worlds and books to equip the reader to reenter the real world. They are, ideally, places where nothing happens and where everything that has happened is stored up to be remembered and relived, the place where the world is folded up into boxes of paper. Every book is a door that opens onto another world, which might be the magic that all those children's books were alluding to, and a library is a Milky Way of worlds."
'A great library doesn't have to be big or beautiful," Vicki Myron points out. "It doesn't have to have the best facilities or the most efficient staff or the most users. A great library provides. It is enmeshed in the life of a community in a way that makes it indispensable. A great library is one nobody notices because it is always there, and always has what people need.''
"Libraries are a force for good," says Libba Bray. "They wear capes. They fight evil. They don’t get upset when you don’t send them a card on their birthdays. (Though they will charge you if you’re late returning a book.) They serve communities. The town without a library is a town without a soul. The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of all human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance. Libraries are the torch of the world, illuminating the path when it feels too dark to see. We mustn’t allow that torch to be extinguished."
Thinking about libraries, I'm reminded of this lovely passage from Sarah Smith's Chasing Shakespeare: "I shall tell you what I believe. I believe God is a librarian. I believe that literature is holy...it is that best part of our souls that we break off and give each other, and God has a special dispensation for it, angels to guard its making and its preservation."
And yet libraries are now closing at a horrifying rate....and this will only get worse if we don't take immediate action in the UK, the US, and around the world. (Follow the links to organizations fighting the good fight.)
"Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism," says Neil Gaiman.
A call to arms if I ever heard one.
The images above: "Reading is an Advemture" by Charles Vess; "From the Library" by Michelle Knudsen; "Library Mouse" by Daniel Kirk; a photograph from CODE's "Adopt a Library" program;"Reading Matter" by Cassia Beck and"Things I Need to Survive" from The Lady of the Books; a photopgraph of a library bombed in the Blitz, London, 1940; and a poster design for The Stockbridge Library by Norman Rockwell.