A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.
– Henry Ward Beecher
Too many years ago, when I was walking the campus at Indiana State in my flannel shirts and blue jeans and with hair that grew over my shirt collar, I used to spend much of my free time between classes at the old Emeline Fairbanks Public Library on North Seventh Street. It was musty and cramped, but I loved its stained glass and cool limestone and creaking floors, and like iron filings being pulled to a magnet, it drew me to its stacks.
I have had a long love affair with libraries; I love the feel of them and the smell of them, and I love their purpose and potential. I was a little saddened when that old place closed up shop and moved, although I understood why, and so I have come to love the building that took its place.
Not unlike Will Rogers, I suppose that most of what I know is what I’ve taken from the newspapers, and lately it seems as though much has been written in this one about the budgetary crisis that the Vigo County Public Library is encountering.
Like me, I imagine that the library has some fat to trim from its considerable frame, and that in these lean times, it, like any of us, has to learn to do a better job of budgeting and reusing and recycling, particularly when tax dollars are at stake.
But libraries are critically important to us, an essential service or utility like water and electrical power, and when we start taking whacks at their foundations with budgetary pickaxes, and I do mean us, the taxpayers who use them and enjoy them, we are going to pay a price sooner than later.
I first started going to the library when I was very young; my mom always made the branch library in North Terre Haute — near the Otter Creek Bridge across from Stapleton’s Market — a stop whenever we went to town. It was a rickety, old place with dark-shellacked floors and a tooled-metal ceiling. It was dark and warm and quiet, special because I could walk out of it with an armload of books for nothing. I knew I would have to eventually take the books back, but they were mine for a little while.
If you have never done it, or haven’t done it for some time, wander your local library’s aisles, run your fingers along the spines of books and pull out the ones that interest you. Forget about the card catalogue or computer kiosk for a day, and just explore the treasure trove a little. I think if we all did that more often, we’d find books that we’ve simply never heard of before on subjects we didn’t even know would interest us, whole new worlds for the taking, and we’d appreciate the special power libraries have to teach and entertain us.
The great travel writer and television reporter Charles Kuralt once wrote, “I remember being in the library and my jaw just aching as I looked around at all those books I wanted to read. There just wasn’t time enough to read everything I wanted to read.”
Historian David McCullough, who is so good at his craft as a writer that I would read his grocery shopping lists, says there are more public libraries in this country than McDonald’s restaurants, and that more children take part in public reading programs nationwide than play Little League baseball. How could we ever consider cutting funding for such places?
There are many reasons for strengthening funds for libraries, not slicing away at them. Besides the less-logical argument that they are simply fun places to go, libraries do a lot more for us than we probably realize. In information compiled three years ago, and already out of date, the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation came up with a few more reasons why libraries are fundamentally important to us.
First, they promote democracy — people make informed political decisions based on what they find in the library. Second, libraries are essential to the educational process — they help us learn to think. Third, libraries promote community — they bring people together, and they help us record and preserve our local history. Fourth, they “level the playing field” — they make resources available to everyone; poor people, like Andrew Carnegie once was, can go to libraries, too; they’re not elitist. He eventually gave away millions of his dollars to build libraries in communities just like ours.
Years ago I used to teach stories by Doris Lessing in my sophomore English classes. On the subject of libraries, Lessing once said, “With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of all institutions because no one — but no one at all — can tell you what to read and when and how.”
According to that list of statistics I mentioned, five times more people visit public libraries in this country than attend professional and college football, basketball, baseball and hockey games, and libraries circulate about the same number of items that FedEx ships every day, about 5.3 million items. They are busy places.
I am certain that I will use our library for the rest of my life, and I will pay for the privilege, beyond my tax dollars, if necessary. As times get tougher economically, I can assure the powers that be that, as folks tighten their purse strings, they will cut out the trip to the movies or that night at a local restaurant, but they will not stop going to our libraries.
But we have to find a way to keep them open. Barbara Tuchman, a great historian, once said, “Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.” I would contend that cutting back hours at our libraries, and cutting budgets for books and research materials, ending computer lessons and the supply of magazines and newspapers, and all the other great things that libraries do for us, will, in the long run, cost us more jobs, more money and more enjoyment than we can calculate.
I more than fondly remember my days at the library; I am grateful for them; I cherish them. My own book sits on its shelves now, something that I never dreamed imaginable so many years ago when I meandered the library in search of loot.
Many of our leaders believe that it takes new road construction or tax incentives to stimulate our economy, and they are partially right. But what we had also better be concerned about is stimulating our imaginations and our curiosity and creativity these days. For that, libraries are essential.
Ray Bradbury, whose “Martian Chronicles” I first read in my junior high school library, said we didn’t have to burn books to destroy culture; all we have to do is to get people to stop reading them.
Mike Lunsford can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com, or through regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his Web page at www.mikelunsford.com for more information about his book, “The Off Season: The Newspaper Stories of Mike Lunsford.”
A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.
- Mike Lunsford
‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’
Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge
It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.
Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September
The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …
I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night
We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at www.tribstar.com.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother
EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’
We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.
Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked
A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Mice really do play when the cat’s away
I am rarely away from my place much in the summer. I like the quiet here and don’t yearn to be gone for very long at a time. To me, a vacation often means that I don’t have to start my car for days on end, or put on socks, for that matter. But this year has been different; my wife and I took a two-week driving trip through New England, the longest vacation we’ve ever had without our kids along for the ride. We had a great time, but when we got back, we were surprised to learn that all kinds of things had been going on in our absence.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A New England journal begins …
BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …
MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem
The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.
A walk in the woods
I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science
My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: As of today, it’s unofficially spring
Despite the calendar telling us not to rush things, I think it is all right to go ahead and say spring is here. The Ides of March has passed, Easter is coming soon, and I have already been out in my yard with a rake, getting my boots muddy. It looks like spring to me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Twain’s Sawyer helps us yearn for ‘wilderness of childhood’
My cousin, Roger, stopped in one day last summer for a glass of tea and a little conversation. Rog has lived an hour’s drive away for years and now, and besides summer reunions, I don’t see him nearly often enough. He’s a good man who has raised a good family, and he owns a healthy sense of appreciation for not only the life he has now, but also the lives we had years ago as kids.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Cheerful green of wheat fights winter blahs
There is a light drizzle of freezing rain tapping at the door of my cabin today. It is little more than a week before the words I am writing are due to appear on your breakfast table or work desk with your morning coffee and scrambled eggs. But I write when I can, and today, despite a full schedule of televised football games, and the stacks of ungraded papers in my briefcase, and a good book lying open on my nightstand, I am clacking away on a keyboard to the whir of a heater and the steady drip of my gutters.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On the simple joys of watching it snow ...
It began to snow about 20 minutes ago, as I write this, light, wind-driven flakes that fall silently into my woods as I watch from a window.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On this day above all, ‘Peace on earth, good will to men’
More than a year after his wife’s death, the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote in his diary on Christmas Day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Remembering a Lefty Frizzell-kind of Christmas ...
My brother and sister and I sat around a Thanksgiving dinner table a month ago, shifting in our seats just enough to make our yet-to-be digested turkey sit a little more easily, and, as we often do when we get together, we reminisced about our childhoods for a while.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The wonders of wading in ‘The Iridescence of a Shallow Stream’
I have no idea how many times I have written a story that begins with the wistful phrase, “When I was a boy. ...”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Little man who came to dinner changes feel of household
My 7-year-old nephew, Carson, came to visit us last week. That in itself isn’t earth-shattering news, for he often drops by with one of his parents or the other, the last time dressed as a ghoul for Halloween. But for a couple like Joanie and me, whose youngest child is now nearly two decades past Carson’s age, having a little guy like him in the house, even for a few hours, takes a bit of adjusting.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Reflections: a bit of red glass and our daily thanksgivings
I sat in the half-light of my old desk lamp a few nights ago, a chilly wind blowing in from the northwest that made me appreciative of my long-sleeved shirt and purring heater.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Growing up — and ‘old’ — with many mouths to feed
At our family reunion last summer, I asked my brother if I could borrow a pair of photo albums he had put together. Over the past couple of years, I have committed quite a few of our family’s old yellowing snapshots to newly cropped and digitalized lives, and I wanted to do the same with some of the pictures John has collected for himself.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Violets in October – a pleasant surprise
I guess I don’t pay much attention to the weather forecasts these days because it surprised me a bit when our furnace kicked on a few nights ago.
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- ‘The mind is a dark forest’