To those of us who are readers, the public library is a sacred place – an almost holy shrine holding the treasure of our past, our wisdom, and serving as an incubator for our future greatness. It is one of our most valuable democratic institutions, allowing men, women and children of every stripe equal, free access to its resources. And it is an institution under assault.
Not as in the Ray Bradbury classic Fahrenheit 451, where books themselves are banned and burned (and by implication, libraries are obsolete) but our changing world puts them at risk in other ways. For example, the publishing of print books has shrunk dramatically in an era of technology. Now libraries must make books available in print form (regular and large print and braille) as well as online and through audio books.
That’s a daunting logistics and budgeting challenge, says Arlington Libraries Director Yoko Matsumoto, but one that our city has taken on with relish. Come Saturday, June 16, we have a 10:30 ribbon cutting, followed by an open house at our new multi-story George W. Hawkes Downtown Library at 100 Center Street. The new Downtown location will house some 200,000 print and audio/visual resources, added to the resources of our six branches.
In her talk to a community group last month, Yoko said modern libraries are cropping up all across the country with a new business focus – to create spaces reflective of the community they service, to foster the human connection, and to harness new technologies.
That’s a mouthful, but the Director went on to describe the multi-stories and multi-purposes of our new library – from the colorful first floor kid space (with its giant, tactile DISCOVER wall) to the sage-colored reading room on the third floor and a roof-top garden above. There will be spaces, activities and programming for every age. And books. Did I mention books?
There is nothing quite like a grand downtown library and I will spend many an hour there. For a writer that is idyllic, so if you lose track of me, that is where I will be, reading, researching, absorbing. Happy, and ever-mindful of the value of my experience, perhaps chuckling over Joseph Mills’ poem and warning:
If librarians were honest, they would say, No one
spends time here without being changed. Maybe
you should go home. While you can.
— Jonnie Martin