A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.
– Henry Ward Beecher
Too many years ago, when I was walking the campus at Indiana State in my flannel shirts and blue jeans and with hair that grew over my shirt collar, I used to spend much of my free time between classes at the old Emeline Fairbanks Public Library on North Seventh Street. It was musty and cramped, but I loved its stained glass and cool limestone and creaking floors, and like iron filings being pulled to a magnet, it drew me to its stacks.
I have had a long love affair with libraries; I love the feel of them and the smell of them, and I love their purpose and potential. I was a little saddened when that old place closed up shop and moved, although I understood why, and so I have come to love the building that took its place.
Not unlike Will Rogers, I suppose that most of what I know is what I’ve taken from the newspapers, and lately it seems as though much has been written in this one about the budgetary crisis that the Vigo County Public Library is encountering.
Like me, I imagine that the library has some fat to trim from its considerable frame, and that in these lean times, it, like any of us, has to learn to do a better job of budgeting and reusing and recycling, particularly when tax dollars are at stake.
But libraries are critically important to us, an essential service or utility like water and electrical power, and when we start taking whacks at their foundations with budgetary pickaxes, and I do mean us, the taxpayers who use them and enjoy them, we are going to pay a price sooner than later.
I first started going to the library when I was very young; my mom always made the branch library in North Terre Haute — near the Otter Creek Bridge across from Stapleton’s Market — a stop whenever we went to town. It was a rickety, old place with dark-shellacked floors and a tooled-metal ceiling. It was dark and warm and quiet, special because I could walk out of it with an armload of books for nothing. I knew I would have to eventually take the books back, but they were mine for a little while.
If you have never done it, or haven’t done it for some time, wander your local library’s aisles, run your fingers along the spines of books and pull out the ones that interest you. Forget about the card catalogue or computer kiosk for a day, and just explore the treasure trove a little. I think if we all did that more often, we’d find books that we’ve simply never heard of before on subjects we didn’t even know would interest us, whole new worlds for the taking, and we’d appreciate the special power libraries have to teach and entertain us.
The great travel writer and television reporter Charles Kuralt once wrote, “I remember being in the library and my jaw just aching as I looked around at all those books I wanted to read. There just wasn’t time enough to read everything I wanted to read.”
Historian David McCullough, who is so good at his craft as a writer that I would read his grocery shopping lists, says there are more public libraries in this country than McDonald’s restaurants, and that more children take part in public reading programs nationwide than play Little League baseball. How could we ever consider cutting funding for such places?
There are many reasons for strengthening funds for libraries, not slicing away at them. Besides the less-logical argument that they are simply fun places to go, libraries do a lot more for us than we probably realize. In information compiled three years ago, and already out of date, the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation came up with a few more reasons why libraries are fundamentally important to us.
First, they promote democracy — people make informed political decisions based on what they find in the library. Second, libraries are essential to the educational process — they help us learn to think. Third, libraries promote community — they bring people together, and they help us record and preserve our local history. Fourth, they “level the playing field” — they make resources available to everyone; poor people, like Andrew Carnegie once was, can go to libraries, too; they’re not elitist. He eventually gave away millions of his dollars to build libraries in communities just like ours.
Years ago I used to teach stories by Doris Lessing in my sophomore English classes. On the subject of libraries, Lessing once said, “With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of all institutions because no one — but no one at all — can tell you what to read and when and how.”
According to that list of statistics I mentioned, five times more people visit public libraries in this country than attend professional and college football, basketball, baseball and hockey games, and libraries circulate about the same number of items that FedEx ships every day, about 5.3 million items. They are busy places.
I am certain that I will use our library for the rest of my life, and I will pay for the privilege, beyond my tax dollars, if necessary. As times get tougher economically, I can assure the powers that be that, as folks tighten their purse strings, they will cut out the trip to the movies or that night at a local restaurant, but they will not stop going to our libraries.
But we have to find a way to keep them open. Barbara Tuchman, a great historian, once said, “Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.” I would contend that cutting back hours at our libraries, and cutting budgets for books and research materials, ending computer lessons and the supply of magazines and newspapers, and all the other great things that libraries do for us, will, in the long run, cost us more jobs, more money and more enjoyment than we can calculate.
I more than fondly remember my days at the library; I am grateful for them; I cherish them. My own book sits on its shelves now, something that I never dreamed imaginable so many years ago when I meandered the library in search of loot.
Many of our leaders believe that it takes new road construction or tax incentives to stimulate our economy, and they are partially right. But what we had also better be concerned about is stimulating our imaginations and our curiosity and creativity these days. For that, libraries are essential.
Ray Bradbury, whose “Martian Chronicles” I first read in my junior high school library, said we didn’t have to burn books to destroy culture; all we have to do is to get people to stop reading them.
Mike Lunsford can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com, or through regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his Web page at www.mikelunsford.com for more information about his book, “The Off Season: The Newspaper Stories of Mike Lunsford.”
A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.
- Mike Lunsford
A walk in the woods
I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science
My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: As of today, it’s unofficially spring
Despite the calendar telling us not to rush things, I think it is all right to go ahead and say spring is here. The Ides of March has passed, Easter is coming soon, and I have already been out in my yard with a rake, getting my boots muddy. It looks like spring to me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Twain’s Sawyer helps us yearn for ‘wilderness of childhood’
My cousin, Roger, stopped in one day last summer for a glass of tea and a little conversation. Rog has lived an hour’s drive away for years and now, and besides summer reunions, I don’t see him nearly often enough. He’s a good man who has raised a good family, and he owns a healthy sense of appreciation for not only the life he has now, but also the lives we had years ago as kids.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Cheerful green of wheat fights winter blahs
There is a light drizzle of freezing rain tapping at the door of my cabin today. It is little more than a week before the words I am writing are due to appear on your breakfast table or work desk with your morning coffee and scrambled eggs. But I write when I can, and today, despite a full schedule of televised football games, and the stacks of ungraded papers in my briefcase, and a good book lying open on my nightstand, I am clacking away on a keyboard to the whir of a heater and the steady drip of my gutters.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On the simple joys of watching it snow ...
It began to snow about 20 minutes ago, as I write this, light, wind-driven flakes that fall silently into my woods as I watch from a window.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On this day above all, ‘Peace on earth, good will to men’
More than a year after his wife’s death, the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote in his diary on Christmas Day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Remembering a Lefty Frizzell-kind of Christmas ...
My brother and sister and I sat around a Thanksgiving dinner table a month ago, shifting in our seats just enough to make our yet-to-be digested turkey sit a little more easily, and, as we often do when we get together, we reminisced about our childhoods for a while.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The wonders of wading in ‘The Iridescence of a Shallow Stream’
I have no idea how many times I have written a story that begins with the wistful phrase, “When I was a boy. ...”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Little man who came to dinner changes feel of household
My 7-year-old nephew, Carson, came to visit us last week. That in itself isn’t earth-shattering news, for he often drops by with one of his parents or the other, the last time dressed as a ghoul for Halloween. But for a couple like Joanie and me, whose youngest child is now nearly two decades past Carson’s age, having a little guy like him in the house, even for a few hours, takes a bit of adjusting.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Reflections: a bit of red glass and our daily thanksgivings
I sat in the half-light of my old desk lamp a few nights ago, a chilly wind blowing in from the northwest that made me appreciative of my long-sleeved shirt and purring heater.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Growing up — and ‘old’ — with many mouths to feed
At our family reunion last summer, I asked my brother if I could borrow a pair of photo albums he had put together. Over the past couple of years, I have committed quite a few of our family’s old yellowing snapshots to newly cropped and digitalized lives, and I wanted to do the same with some of the pictures John has collected for himself.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Violets in October – a pleasant surprise
I guess I don’t pay much attention to the weather forecasts these days because it surprised me a bit when our furnace kicked on a few nights ago.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A library is a good thing — even a little, homegrown one
I grew up with libraries, and I can’t imagine there ever being a time when I won’t want to wander one exploring it like some bookworm-Balboa, finding an author or title that I never really knew existed before. Creating those “Eureka” moments seems to be a dying interest now that so many of us download and digest books electronically without ever really considering that there just might be some hidden gem we’d have liked even more had we simply stumbled upon it on a shelf by accident. I think those moments of discovery are not unlike kicking up lost treasure a mile from where X marks the spot.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The ‘soothsayer’ who came to dinner
I’ve had a good time opening my mail these past few weeks. Sure, I still received the usual junk about lower credit card rates and satellite television packages, but the genuine letters made me smile; most were about a story I wrote in late August.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The agony of de‘feet’ has this writer on his heels
I don’t know if I can electrocute myself by using a computer and soaking my feet in a pan of warm water at the same time, but I am contemplating taking the risk. My feet, particularly the right foot, have staged a 10-digit rebellion over the past few months. After a half-century of commendable service, my pods are screaming to be taken in for repairs, a big inconvenience for a guy who works on his feet all day and whose “sole” form of serious exercise is putting one foot in front of another walking the local roadways.
Mike Lunsford: Summer’s hidden beauty worth the wait
The great naturalist John Burroughs once said that nature teaches more than she preaches. I can’t recall a summer where that rings true more than this one, for that old sun of ours truly taught us a thing or two these past three months.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s time to redefine the concept of ‘assisted living’
Although it has been nearly two months now, I can’t forget the few afternoon hours I spent on a hot June day this summer at a local “assisted living” facility in town. I had been asked to speak to a group of men there about Father’s Day, but for most part, the wonderful old guys who came to listen certainly made my day more memorable than I did theirs.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Observations on smooth stones and blue-green water…
It was raining when I began to write this. Although no one could rightfully call what we got this afternoon a “downpour,” it was nice to have my windows open to hear the steady drops of a passing shower tapping on my dry-as-dust deck and hard-as-concrete yard.
MIKE LUNSFORD: This summer has us recalling the heat of ’36
It was “only” 99 degrees one afternoon last week when I decided to work on a backyard deck. With a jack and a drill and a little more sweat than I wanted to invest in the project, I went about the business of leveling its sags and dips a bit. The sun pounded down on my head and shoulders like a thug’s blackjack, but as I packed my tools and drank a glass of cool water under a big maple tree a few hours later, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I’ve been these past few dusty and drought-stricken weeks. I have worked under this summer’s heat lamp for only a few hours at a time, but God help the roofers and utility linesmen and firemen, and so many others, who are out in it day after long hot day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: We had no better friend than Andy Taylor
The world is a sadder place now that Andy Griffith has died, but at least we still have Andy Taylor.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Wading deeper into the subject of Blue Herons
Like a relative who has worn out his welcome, the hot, parched weather of this young summer has already overstayed its visit with us, so my wife and I have found ourselves walking our road later in the evenings to keep our feet cool and our backs dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Thanking two dads whose gifts have never stopped coming…
It is nearly a week until Father’s Day, but I have had my dad, and my father-in-law — a second dad to me — on my mind today. I wrote about both men just a few weeks ago, but I have set my mind to write about them again anyway. I don’t want this story to be sad; they both loved to laugh and wouldn’t want that. No, I just wanted to tell them hello, and to thank them again for what they still do for me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Raising a flag for my father, veteran or not
My daughter, Ellen, and I stood at my parents’ graves on Mother’s Day a few weeks back and talked about how it couldn’t possibly have been so long since we lost them. My dad, for instance, has been gone for 16 years, and that is nearly unimaginable
MIKE LUNSFORD: Time to become one of the boys of summer again …
Besides writing for a living, I teach school, and I’m not ashamed to tell people that I still love my classroom. I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, all of them in the same school district, and virtually all of them in the same building. But I also have to tell you that if the next few weeks don’t slide by pretty quickly, I may just let loose of the last thread of sanity from which I have been dangling for a while now. There are a lot of teachers out there who feel the same way.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s time for us to get the real lowdown on dirt…
I have had my hands in the soil as of late. Two Fridays ago, I planted a viburnum bush, three chrysanthemums and a yellow poplar, not because it happened to be Earth Day, but because it was sunny and warm, and I had the whole afternoon to myself. The dirt I scraped out of and back into the shallow holes I dug near a backyard picket fence smelled good, and when dampened with a few sprinkles of water, it soon found its way into the deep wrinkles of my knuckles and under my fingernails. For the most part, I have nothing but good things to say about dirt.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Make big money: Raise worms at home for fun and profit…
When I think about all of the crazy things my brother and sister and I did just to make a few dollars when we were kids, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for teens this summer as they try to find jobs in what is supposed to be a very tight market. Money, to say the least, was a rare commodity when we were growing up, but you have to at least give us credit for trying.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d…’
Had white lace curtains been hanging in the west window of my cabin, I would have had a perfect Wyeth painting to watch last Thursday. A gentle breeze was wafting through my screens, and the sunlight of a warm late March day was fractured by the window sill as it poured onto my legs and feet. I could catch the scent of lilacs as it was carried in by that wind, and it and the subtle melody of the chimes that hang just outside made me as lazy as an old cat.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A report from the country as a new season brings sense of renewal
Regardless of what the calendar may yet say, spring has happened. It couldn’t have come too soon, and it wasn’t just last week and its windy 70s that have convinced me. I have been keeping a journal of sorts in my head for a fortnight now, stashing away reports of birds and buds and sounds in the crammed cabinets of my mind, all in a file marked, “The New Season.”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Feeding time at the homestead draws a host of new guests
I stepped outside into the warmth of an unusually mild early March morning last week to do what I always do just before I grab my briefcase and book bag and lunch bag and head off to work. It’s nearly always dark when I leave, even as the sun gets up earlier and earlier in the late winter, so I often go about the business of feeding our cats with porch lights on and a flashlight in hand.
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- A walk in the woods