Libraries valuable to our society

Posted 4/15/18

I’ve had a fascination with books for as long as I remember. My mom bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias when I was in grammar school. The pages between those red leather-bound covers were like …

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Libraries valuable to our society

Posted

I’ve had a fascination with books for as long as I remember. My mom bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias when I was in grammar school. The pages between those red leather-bound covers were like a mental magic carpet to me.  


Our family was fortunate. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, and both wanted to ensure their kids had a shot at an education. That’s why they bought the books on the installment plan. It didn’t take a diploma to understand the value of books. There were many kids in rural America who weren’t as fortunate.


Carl Elliott, who was our representative in Congress from 1949 to 1965, understood the value of books. He was instrumental in the enactment of the Library Services Act of 1956. Part of the funding from this bill paid for bookmobiles. Those libraries on wheels put knowledge into the hands of millions of rural Americans. 


I remember the first book I checked out of the Walker County bookmobile. The title was "The Wildlife Cameraman," by Jim Kjelgaard. I remember becoming lost in the words of that book. It was one reason I wanted to learn photography when I got older.


Through the years, I’ve used the library system a great deal. When I started working in Hoover in the '80s, the commute was brutal. The drive took an hour in each direction and that’s when the interstate wasn’t under construction. The interstate was ALWAYS under construction.


At first, I listened to the same three songs on commercial radio, but halfway to my destination I tended to drool. The other choice was listening to news that made me want to drive full speed into a bridge abutment. Searching for alternatives, I found the answer at the library. Books on tape.


At first, I wondered if I could focus on the words, but I learned that a good story drew me in. I listened to hundreds of biographies, self-help, do-it-yourself, and works of fiction. 


The commute robbed me of 10 hours of life each week. But discovering books on tape in the library turned wasted hours into an enjoyable part of my day.


This week was National Library Week and the folks at the Carl Elliott Regional Library in Jasper invited me to participate in a Local Authors event. I was thrilled at the invite. When I arrived, staff members showed me to my table and offered help setting up. 


There were several other writers on hand. The people at the library were incredible. I sold some books, made new friends, and listened to a gospel bluegrass group playing in another section of the library.


As I looked around, there were a lot of young folks there. That was encouraging to me because a library is more than a place to check out books. It’s a place of history – a place of discovery. It’s educational and social.  


I think Walter Cronkite summed it up well when he said, "Whatever our libraries cost, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." I couldn’t have said it better, Mr. Cronkite.


Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@homefolkmedia.com.