As published in the Red Rock News
These days, books and information come in many forms. There are bound books, audiobooks, eBooks, and even Human Books. There are also movies, television, radio, podcasts, websites, and more. Here are a few thoughts and ideas that have become stuck in my mind about books, and libraries, too.
Books as a Threat: You may recall Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451” in which the protagonist, Guy Montag, was a firefighter whose job was to burn books to keep society illiterate rather than to put out fires. As the story progresses, Montag learns of people who replace the books he has burned by memorizing them or “becoming” books themselves.
The fact that people considered books so important that they became books, at their own peril, speaks to the place books and information can hold for us. (I particularly enjoyed the image of sitting among a circle of friends listening to that person “read” his or her book.) For some of us, books have an almost sacred presence. And even if you don’t go that far, I would be willing to suggest that most of us have a favorite book or books that we return to over and over, that gives us a particular pleasure unequalled by anything else.
Libraries as Sacred, Liminal Spaces: Even the most basic library has its fervent adherents. To simply walk through the doors of a library, whether large or small, well-appointed, or rough, can move some of us into a different state of mind. The whole world is there at our fingertips; all we need to do is look. Running one’s hand down the spines of a shelf of books offers a special moment that few other experiences can match. Taking a book off the shelf and opening it to the fly to dip one’s heart and mind into the knowledge therein can transport one to anywhere in the universe. The word “liminal,” from the Latin root “limen,” means “threshold.” To stand at that threshold and look over the edge into the vastness that unlimited knowledge offers can be, for many of us, a sacred moment.
Humans as Libraries: Whether Bradbury’s “book people”, or even the current day “Human Library” project in which people offer themselves as “books” to recount their life experiences, I believe we are all, in fact, books. Every one of us is a complex and fascinating combination of fiction and nonfiction. Just walk around the places you commonly visit—stores, places of worship, casual gatherings, a simple stroll through your neighborhood – and turn your mind towards seeing everyone as their own unique book—it can change the most casual encounter into something remarkable. It is similar to standing in the rows of shelves in a physical library. When an elder dies in Senegal they say, “A library has burned down.” How would our own lives be enriched if we held that image of everyone we meet as a fascinating book? What does your “novel life” offer others?
Your Library Card: First Lady Laura Bush, a librarian, said, “I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.” I would hazard to guess that if you were to open your wallet, the most used piece of plastic stored in the very front slots would be your credit cards—maybe not one, but several them! Sure, they can purchase all manner of things, but what would it say about you if the most readily accessible card therein was your library card? Front and center, quickest to come to hand, the card that offers you the entire world and an immeasurable store of knowledge—and it doesn’t cost a thing! Imagine a culture that places libraries and knowledge at that level of priority.
Funding for Libraries: A few years ago, I heard a conversation on NPR in which the guest said something like, “If libraries didn’t exist, and you suggested creating a place where anyone could get books and access to all the information in the world for free, do you honestly think we would spend the money to create them?” It was a shocking point to make, but sadly I think it may be true. I am grateful for those remarkable visionaries who saw the value of such places and made them a reality. We are all the better for it. I offer a deep bow to each and every one of them.
Let me also offer up some of my favorite quotes about libraries:
"Libraries are full of ideas – perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons." - Sarah J. Maas
"Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague." - Eleanor Crumblehulme
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” - Walter Cronkite
"You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!" - Russell T. Davies
"The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library." - Albert Einstein
My suggestion to you: Come to Sedona Public Library; stand at the threshold and take a moment to reflect on what lies within. Walk through the doors to find the whole world and access to immeasurable knowledge. And remember, knowledge is power! Know that for as long as we allow it, the library is free to all. How remarkable!
Please support your public library at sedonalibrary.org/donate!
Sedona Public Library
Column for July 30, 2021
Written by David Keeber, President of The Friends of the Sedona Library
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News.