Keep the Libraries and Keep the Librarians!!!
There is a memory I cherish of a young boy, age 8, walking across a dusty, hot playground. I am that boy and I lead a single file line of my classmates towards a small, wood framed house perched on the back corner of our elementary school property. It is an old house with worn wooden steps and only one door and one window. As I walk up the stairs, my heart races and my hand trembles. I open the old, wooden door and a warm, redolent breeze flows over me. From inside this house the fragrance of paper and ink and glue; the very blood of books fills my nostrils and I sigh in utter contentment. Here is the universe: here is magic and fantasy; here are worlds and geographies for me to explore; here are men and women and children from the past and all their brave and terrible deeds; here are books.
In the corner sitting behind a wooden desk is a slight woman with short, dark hair and a ready smile. Mrs. Asbhy stands up and motions to a nearby shelf of our local branch of the Shreve Memorial Library.
“Bruce, I found a special book for you. You should try it. It is science fiction.”
She hands me the book and on the cover are the words “Tunnel in the Sky” by Robert Heinlein. There is an image of a young man, probably 12 stepping through an open doorway onto an alien world. I have just held my first science fiction book. I devoured it in one day crouched in the hot cab of my father’s old green truck at the end of our driveway along a major highway in Blanchard. In the back of the truck were watermelons. A sign on the windshield advertised them for fifty cents. No one stopped on the lonely highway but I didn’t care. I was transported to another world where young people had to survive in a hostile environment after they were accidentally sent on a field trip to a planet no one knew existed and then forgotten.
That summer, I was sad to be isolated in the countryside from the library. I had no new books to read. One day while re-reading my comic book in my father’s truck parked on the edge of that empty highway, I heard a roaring noise. Over the far hill a huge vehicle lumbered. It pulled into my driveway and behind the huge steering wheel sat the diminutive Mrs. Ashby. On the side of the vehicle were the words, “Shreve Memorial Library Bookmobile.” The library had come to me! Mrs. Ashby had brought the universe to my house! I walked up the stairs into the hot interior and beheld all of my friends, my books, my imagination on fire with possibilities.
In the past I have written about the dangers of violent video games and violent media. I have touched on the danger of unsupervised and unprepared children; of parents who abandon their children to the babysitting technology all around them that they cannot begin to understand. I wrote on how ideas have consequences and how we as parents MUST be involved in our children’s lives.
Today, I spoke to the Caddo Parrish Association of Librarians. I told them my story of Mrs. Asbhy and thanked them for their devotion to being the guardian of ideas; the guide for our children’s imagination. I didn’t realize that our own school board is about to “lay off” 13 librarians and leave the library to our children without any kind of guidance or supervision. Do I see a problem here? Harken back to the example of the video games and the violent video media. Without guidance, how do our children make wise choices? In today’s technologically overwhelming world, we tend to think that just because it is easy to find information on the internet, our children don’t need our supervision or our guidance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You can learn precisely how to perform an appendectomy on the internet. But, does that mean you are WISE to go and try to operate on yourself? Or someone else? Knowledge without experience is empty, tinkling brass. It is nothing but simple facts; words and numbers bouncing around inside our head. But, knowledge tempered by EXPERIENCE is WISDOM. How can you have a library without a librarian? How can we allow our children access to endless knowledge without tempering that knowledge with experience? Our children become all knowing but they lack wisdom. They can no longer discern between killing someone in a video game and killing a real person in a class room.
That is a gross exaggeration, but it is very, very accurate and very, very frightening. When we abandon our children to a universe of knowledge without guidance, is it any surprise they learn how to eliminate any restraint on their actions and decisions? After all, if we don’t want to be involved in their lives, then why should THEY want us involved in their lives? We have left them to their own devices so why are we surprised at their behaviors?
Here is my plea: keep the libraries and keep the librarians. We need more Mrs. Ashby’s to hand our children the right choice in reading material; to guide their minds and their lives in constructive ways; to open their imaginations to positive and constructive thoughts so that one day they will become the keepers and the leaders of the human race with WISDOM!
I know that my words will probably fall on ears that are deafened by the constant diatribes about going over budget or trying to make ends meet. But, when money talks, it is ALWAYS a destructive process because the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. It is time for us to ask the hard questions about priorities. Our children NEED our libraries and our librarians if for no other reason than to have the kind of guidance our children desperately need in a world filled with endless technological baubles and possibilities. Keep our libraries! And, for our children’s sake, keep our school librarians!!