Steve Luxenberg - Official Website

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Praising libraries, an author's best friend

Let us now praise libraries, famous or not.

Libraries support authors and their work. They give us a space on their shelves and a place where communities can come to discuss our books. In my travels, I often find myself at the local library, sometimes to do a bit of research, sometimes because I like to surround myself with people and books when I’m working.

In October, I gave a lecture on Annie's Ghosts at a university library, where I happened to have spent a magical Saturday afternoon more than 40 years ago. I was 12 years old, visiting my older brother, who was then in the spring of his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He had invited me for the weekend, and I took advantage of my freedom to roam the campus by plopping myself down in a chair in the Hatcher Graduate Library’s periodicals room.

Strange? Well, I admit, a bit unusual. Hour after hour, reel after reel, I conjured up historic dates and threaded microfilmed newspapers through the gigantic reader. I would be lying if I pretended that I remember much about my choices, but I know that I wasn’t particularly creative: I went for wars and sports and memorable news, not necessarily in that order.

Did my love of journalism begin on that afternoon in 1964, huddled in the dim light with the front pages on D-Day, the 1929 stock market crash and the Detroit Tigers victories in the 1935 and 1945 World Series? That’s too neat, too romantic a notion. But I do remember this: I walked out of the library with a powerful feeling that witnessing history, and then reporting it, would be a job worth having.

To return to Ann Arbor, and to be invited to give a lecture in that same library, allowed me to say thanks in person, to pay tribute to a place that opened my eyes to the wider world around me. That’s what the best libraries -- and librarians -- do. They don’t give us knowledge. They help us to find knowledge, to inquire, to explore.

The night after I spoke at the Grad Library, I stood before a crowd of nearly 200 at a very different sort of library, a public library in Novi, a suburb west of Detroit. Recently, Novi joined with four nearby public libraries (Northville, Lyon Township, Salem-South Lyon and Wixom) to form the Neighborhood Library Association.

As their first joint project, the NLA chose Annie’s Ghosts as a “Community Read,” and each library organized two months of activities around the themes of the book. The libraries had 183 copies on hand, and according to their records, the book circulated 765 times before I came to speak. (For a news article on my talk and the Community Read program, click here.)

As it happens, the Novi Public Library has just moved into a new home: a $15 million, 55,000 square foot, start-of-the-art building that opened a few months ago, in June 2010. A bond issue, passed by the Novi voters, provided most of the money to pay for the facility. In this time of tight budgets, it’s an impressive commitment and investment in Novi’s future.

As director Julie Farkas took me on a tour, I could see that it was much more than just a place for books or DVDs or computers or author talks. It’s a place that draws people of all ages and interests, a place where a community comes together, a place for exploration and pursuit.

A place where a 12-year-old might find or nurture a life-long passion.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Julie Farkas said...

It was a pleasure working with you Steve! Keep the great works coming as we (librarians and readers) look forward to your future reads!

November 4, 2010 at 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Hope said...

I think that the one good thing about the recession might be how many people are returning to their local libraries. I know that my Dad just got himself a new library card after years without one.

November 4, 2010 at 1:28 PM  

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