Sentinels in Long Still Rows

Sentinels in Long Still Rows

For me, the American library is a living entity. It is consciousness that thrives and grows on those who partake of it.

Previous truths, freely given

It might seem that I’ve presented a bit of whimsy here about a farm woman who kept chickens and a librarian who lived for show-and-tell. But they were both what libraries are about, I think. Libraries are the repositories of our collective memory, our history, our traditions, our yesterdays, our news of the day and our tomorrows. They allow us to know about all of us – or they should. They keep accounts about those of us who prosper as well as the lives and times of the poor and the enslaved who have little or nothing. They tell about good and evil. They never let us forget who we are, for their worth stands by the knowledge they keep and save for us.

Nothing can shut them up, or down, as long as they and their librarians remain givers of learning, given freely to everyone.

For me, the American library is a living entity. It is consciousness that thrives and grows in those who partake of it. Perhaps I have acquired from libraries in more ways than most. I have studied in them, been helped by librarians in them all of my life. In my childhood, when I tired of my cousins and friends, of playing hopscotch and ring-a-levio, and jumping double-dutch, I walked the half-mile into town to the library. I would enter the goodness of it. No one and nothing bothered me there, not even the quiet. I was free to look and see. I’m sure the librarian must’ve had her eye on me as I grew and changed from child to teenager.

I had the luck to discover, at age 14, Shirley Graham’s There Was Once a Slave, about the life of Frederick Douglass. It was the same day I picked out Forever Amber, having heard older children gossiping about it. I don’t remember whether I took Forever Amber home. I rather doubt my dear mother would have liked me to. I scanned the novel standing there and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Such steaming romance was a part of the library. And so, too, was the life of orator and abolitionist Douglass, the former slave.

Since the beginning, and since I was a child, public libraries have been the only place poor children could obtain books for free on the widest variety of subjects. It is one of the places where free information is considered a public good and an imperative. I have used the public library as a child reader, as a student, as a researcher, and finally, as a writer-turned-lecturer on the subject of my books and writing.