I keep a folder of newspaper clips and printouts on books and movie recommendations that interest me, to riffle through before my regular trips to the local library. For example, I avidly read the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday interview with a cultural luminary in which they are asked to name and comment on their five favorite books, operas, films, recordings or buildings. And of course, the file with book recommendations from the Oregonian, New York Times or the New Yorker is always bulging and inexhaustible, but one can always hope.
It is my way of feeding my brain. Even if I don’t get to said book or film, I’ve read about it and I can gain solace from the fact that it is available, and if I am not enjoying it, some other person is. We all benefit from each other’s enlightenment. Like a local opera house, movie theater, dramatic troupe, a library enriches community. And for the most part, communities recognize this and vote to fund local libraries. Support, if not funding, for libraries is actually up, according to opinion polls.
I can still remember the joy of visiting the expat British library as a child living in West Africa, where bookstores were few. While learning French in a colonial school, I was also reading about the lives of children in English boarding schools and immersing myself in Agatha Christie. Our young daughter’s favorite place, next to the bookstore, was the library where she’d habitually gorge herself on the most nutritious food for the mind a child could have.
Anyway, I can’t say enough of what libraries have meant to me and my family. As long as they were there, we knew that the lights were on. The U.S. library system, in its essence, represents such an authentic example of what an optimistic democracy can produce. I always felt like a proud patriot frequenting one.
As one online report on the 18th century link between democratic revolution and the principles of the Englightment says: “This is one reason that Americans should study the Enlightenment. It is in their bones. It has defined part of what they have dreamed of, what they aim to become. “
Is this true anymore? What has happened in Jackson County, Oregon, where this week all the libraries closed, I hope is not a harbinger. A loss of federal funding has led to county cutbacks on jails, roads and other services. Now the status of the libraries are at stake. Calling Thomas Paine, calling Thomas Jefferson.
Of course there is a chance that funding will be found. But what a jarring thought that a solution, in a time of national near-bankruptcy, might not appear. What a game changing precedent that would be. Let’s hope the lights come back on in Jackson County, for the sake of us all.