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All hail the LIBRARY

For those of us who were looking for points of pride yesterday as our country commemorated its birth, for those of us who were concerned that we had little to celebrate about our country during these dark, dark days, may I just say:

The free public library.

Yes, we can claim that. We did that. We can wave our flag about that.

As with most wonderful ideas that happened a long time ago in this country, Benjamin Franklin figures into the narrative. He founded a lending library in Philadelphia in 1703. But the country’s first free (which is to say, tax supported) public library opened in the spring of 1833 in Petersborough, New Hampshire. The more famous (and erroneously claimed as “first’) Boston Public Library opened it doors in 1852. In the 1890s, Butte, Montana city boosters opened that city’s public library “as an antidote to the miners’ proclivity for drinking, whoring and gambling.” (I’ve never been to Butte so I don’t know how that worked out for them.)

A few years later, millionaire (when that meant something), bibliophile (when that meant something)and New York governor Samuel Tilden bequeathed a fortune to establish the extraordinary New York Public Library. (Imagine, for a moment, the current Governor of neighboring New Jersey doing anything for the public good.) And then there was Andrew Carnegie, industrialist-philanthropist, who funded the establishment of more than 2,500 libraries worldwide, 1,689 of which were in the U.S. Today, in case you’re interested, we have more than 16,000 public libraries.

Libraries open the world of books to us. Books open the world to us. It’s that simple. It’s that powerful.

We support public libraries with our tax dollars (our personal donations, our endless bake sales). We support libraries for the good of all, for the enrichment and betterment of all. We don’t say: I’m rich enough to buy my own books. Why should my tax dollars support libraries? If we hear that rhetoric, or a corollary: I’m rich enough to send my kids to private schools, or I don’t have children, why should I support other people’s children’s public education? we must label it for what it is: Deeply un-American. Not the attitude, not the policies, not the fundamental beliefs that reflect what true patriots celebrate. What I celebrated yesterday.

This Saturday, I am so very proud to help the Manzanita Public Library, part of the Tillamook County Public Library system, commemorate its 30th anniversary, 30 years of opening the world of books, which is to say, the world, to the lovely folks in this town that is my second home.

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