By: Pamela Pacelli
President, Verissima Productions
I was 7 years old and the huge grey building with its copper dome and tall, fluted columns seemed like one of the palaces I had read about in fairy tales. My mother and I walked through the heavy bronze door into a room with marble floors, large wooden desks and books surrounding everything. A librarian sat behind the desk and asked, “What can I help you find?”
At that moment, standing in that magical room, my long love affair with books, and with the buildings that house them, was born. I have favorite libraries to visit—some are architecturally awesome, others have comfortable nooks where I can read undisturbed, still others have special collections on subjects that interest me, like art and architecture, or civil war history.
This is National Library Week, nestled in the center of American History month.
I began to think about the history of libraries in the history of our nation and to appreciate just how important they have been to generations of new citizens.
At first, all libraries were private and consisted of collections of books, which were as rare as precious gems at the time, held under close guard and available only to the few. As the American colony became a nation, the first free libraries sprang up, most notably in Philadelphia and Boston, a sign of the new democratic ideals of spreading knowledge and civic pride throughout the citizenry (for years, only “white” and “male”). But it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that libraries, designated as temples of learning”, were being built by towns and cities all across the nation. It was in those libraries that young children of immigrants became the first in their family to read and translated the world for their parents and grandparents. My father was one, son of Italian immigrants. His mother couldn’t read, so he read to her.
Today, libraries are changing, but they are no less vital. They are much more digitally based, of course, and some lament that physical books are going to disappear. Yet, they continue to serve their communities. My friend, who does literacy training, meets with her student in the study carrels at a local library. Young families check out or download video and audio books to take home.
As a personal historian, I am fascinated by the place of libraries in the lives of my subjects, their ancestors, and, now, their children and their grandchildren.
What about you?
What was your first experience with a public library?
What place did libraries play in the history of your family?
What is happening in your community library today? Do you know?
Do you think physical library buildings are still important?
What do you think would happen to our culture if knowledge were
available only online with high speed Internet?
If you’d like to know more, and see some ways to think about libraries, check out this link: http://www.ilovelibraries.org/national-library-week or take a peek at this video from one of my local libraries, the great Boston Public Library.
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