Authors Reminisce: How Librarians Help Shape the Future of Books
In a recent lecture, British author Neil Gaiman cited research that showed a link between youth literacy rates and future prison populations. It was so conclusive, that private companies in the United States who build and operate prisons use it for their business projections. That’s not to say that anyone who is illiterate is destined to become a criminal, of course, or that a literate society has no crime, but it does speak to the statistical correlation. How, then, do we raise literate children?
The easiest way is to teach them to read, and to teach them that reading is a pleasurable activity. Find books that they enjoy, make them accessible, and share reading with them. And nowhere are books more accessible than at your local public library. Gaiman spoke fondly of his childhood library, saying that “libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education…about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”
In today’s digital age, libraries are more important than ever. They are repositories of vast stores of information, and in this world of instant communication and accessibility, we need global citizens of voracious readers, who can comprehend what they’re reading, detect nuance, and make themselves understood.
Here are some thoughts on the importance of libraries from five of the 20th century’s most prominent authors.
“It isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.” – Isaac Asimov
“Our generation in the west was lucky: we had readymade gateways. We had books, paper, teachers, schools and libraries. But many in the world lack these luxuries. How do you practice without such tryout venues? Without a piano, how do you learn to play the piano? How can you write without paper and read without books?” – Margaret Atwood
“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves — you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library, and I’d written a thousand stories.” – Ray Bradbury
“Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission. No committee decides who may enter, no crisis of body or spirit must accompany the entrant. No tuition is charged, no oath sworn, no visa demanded. Of the monuments humans build for themselves, very few say touch me, use me, my hush is not indifference, my space is not barrier. If I inspire awe, it is because I am in awe of you and the possibilities that dwell in you.” – Toni Morrison
“The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” – Carl Sagan