have each of us the
advantage of using the
books of all others
In the 1985 movie, Silverado, a western written, produced and directed by Lawrence Kasdan (just after he made The Big Chill, which I saw in special preview in Ann Arbor and which was my first glimpse of the Low Country – I just didn’t appreciate it at the time) there is a scene where Kevin Kline walks through the swinging doors into a saloon and stops, looks around and breathes deep with the satisfaction of someone who has arrived in their one perfect place.
Yesterday, after two years of Covid restrictions and 1 year of reduced operations for renovations, I went back to the Bluffton branch of the Beaufort County Library.
I walked through the double doors and into the lobby and I stopped and looked around and I breathed in deep with the satisfaction of someone who has arrived in their one perfect spot.
According to legend, and in this case by legend, I mean the classic Autobiography of Ben Franklin, which I was taught may have been the single most successful manufactured self-serving long-lasting piece of propaganda ever published but that is for another day (lets just say that Ben was in it for the long game with the possible goal of walking off with the state of Pennsylvania for himself), it was in 1731 that Dr. Franklin and his friends worked out how to share books.
Dr. Franklin writes, “, a proposition was made by me that, since our books were often referr’d to in our disquisitions upon the queries, it might be convenient to us to have them altogether where we met, that upon occasion they might be consulted; and by thus clubbing our books to a common library, we should, while we lik’d to keep them together, have each of us the advantage of using the books of all the other members, which would be nearly as beneficial as if each owned the whole. “
It didn’t work out as “yet some inconveniences occurring for want of due care of them” and this first effort was stopped but it led to the what we would call a subscription library and eventually that cornerstone of liberty and freedom, the public library.
Now closing in on 300 years after Ben’s Book Club, in an edge of electronic books and reading, the role of a public library has to be questioned as really necessary?
(Ever see the TV show, The Librarians? I don’t mean the American docu-drama, I mean the one from Australia?)
I will say the the tools have changed but the need, the job, the role of the public library is as important and necessary as at any time in history.
Big surprise there right?
What would anyone expect me to say?
I love the library.
I was happy that when we moved to the low country I saw that the county library system was investing in their buildings and that the local branch, the Bluffton Public Library would be getting almost a million dollar renovation.
And when I walked into the re-opened library building yesterday I just felt good.
Much like a walk on the beach, it was refreshing, good-for-the-soul just to be in there.
I thought of the Hemingway line of, “This is a clean and pleasant café. It is well lighted. The light is very good” and I thought of how in the Hemingway short story, the older waiter thinks, “Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.”
The people I know and the people I worked with in the libraries were like that and were often reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the library.
I walked around and just enjoyed the books and the clean, well lit space.
I looked for new books, challenging myself to grab any fiction book at random off the 14 day loan shelf to searching out old favorites and to see how many Jim Harrison books were in the stacks (7!).
I went through the library sale books.
I sat in the new chairs.
I chatted with librarians and volunteers.
I checked my books out and left thinking that maybe, just maybe, the hordes would be held at bay for another 20 or 30 years.
In my life time anyway.
I thought about the other Ben Franklin library story.
When Benjamin Franklin passed away on April 17, 1790, he left Boston and Philadelphia $2,000 for libraries. He’d saved this money while he was Governor of Pennsylvania (1785 to 1788). The money was not to be distributed until 200 years after his death.
In 1990, the bequest was worth $6.5 million and Philadelphia’s portion of the trust was $2 million.
By all scientific examination of Ben’s kite flying in the thunderstorm stunt, Dr. Franklin should have been fried to a crisp.
Kind of glad he wasn’t.