Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category

Why Libraries?

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Tomorrow, I’ll drive almost three hundred miles to present a program at a library in Ponca, Nebraska, a town with a population of less than a thousand people. At a recent signing, a guy who’d seen the event calendar on my website asked me, as if I was crazy, “Why would a New York Times bestselling author bother to go to a small burg like that?” The line of people waiting to have books signed was long, so I gave him a quick, rather flip answer: “Because they asked me.”

Ponca Library

Really, it’s a question that deserves a more considered response.

These days I do about a hundred book events every year. A very large percentage take place in small libraries in rural communities. Towns with names like Vinton, Black River Falls, Spirit Lake, Eagle Butte, Hallock. Places most of you have never heard of and most generally with populations less than five thousand. Places that take me several hours to reach, often by backroads. Although I have a pretty good following and reputation, it’s not uncommon to discover that some of the folks who are there have never heard of me before. They come because having a real live author at their library is an event as rare as a two-headed calf.

So why spend all this time and energy, which might be channeled instead into writing more books, visiting places that are barely even dots on a map? Part of it is, in fact, the flip answer I gave the guy in the signing line: I do it because I’m invited, and I have a difficult time saying no. Part of it is that I usually ask for an honorarium. It’s a pretty modest amount, all things considered, and I donate every cent of it to the Native community in Minnesota. Part of it is that I can never resist an opportunity to talk about myself. But at heart, the reason is that I believe there’s no better mechanism for ensuring a free and democratic society than our public libraries.

Libraries are nothing less than the archives of our culture. These are the places that house the books that guide us to an understanding of who we were and where we came from, help us make sense of who we are now, and maybe point the way to who we might become. When our libraries and librarians are gone, with them goes everything we are as a people.

Free and open access to knowledge is an essential right in a democracy. Keeping our libraries alive and vital is as important to our freedom as anything spelled out in our Constitution.

So I drive thousands of miles every year and hope that in this way, maybe I’m helping the health of libraries, maybe giving back a little of what, over my lifetime, they’ve given me. But I confess, that another reason I go is that an event at a rural library is often accompanied by a potluck supper. And who can resist a good Midwest potluck?

God Bless Librarians

Monday, November 7th, 2011

My father was a high school English teacher, and he attempted to give his children a great appreciation for literature with a capital L.  It worked with my brothers and sister, but for some reason, in my case, it didn’t take.  Me, I was in love with comic books, especially the superhero kind from Marvel and DC.  I loved the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Green Lantern, and the Flash.

All that changed in the summer of my twelfth year.  The instrument of that change was a librarian in a small Ohio town.

I was a Boy Scout then, and in that summer, I decided I wanted to earn the Reading Merit Badge.  One of the requirements for the badge was a period of volunteer labor at my local library.  So I made the arrangements.  On the day I went in to fulfill my obligation, I was put to work date stamping returned books.  This was long before computers, and I used a rubber stamp and an ink pad.  For a while, I sat at the checkout desk, pounding dates in place on slips glued to the inside covers—ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk.

After an hour or so, the librarian drifted over and asked the question I was afraid she would ask and therefore knew absolutely she would.  “Kent,” she said, “what do you like to read?”

I thought about lying, but was pretty much into that whole a scout is trustworthy thing, so I told her the truth: I really liked comic books.

She didn’t bat an eye.  She said, “Have you ever read The Count of Monte Cristo?”

I left the library with that Dumas classic under my arm.  And I came back a few days later for The Three Musketeers. After that, it was The Man in the Iron Mask. When I’d gone through everything Dumas had written, I asked the librarian’s advice, and she directed me to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and Jack London and Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson.

If you read my work, you’ll see that most of my stories contain a solid element of adventure, something that can be traced back to the influence of those great stories I fell in love with under the guidance of a librarian whose name I have forgotten but whose kind wisdom I have always treasured.

God bless librarians everywhere.