Can One Little Library Do Anything?
By Liz Cottrill of Living Books Library, reposted here with her permission.
It is true that I have, on several occasions, written about the decline in reading in our country, even lamentably in the homeschool community, in hopes of doing my part to turn the tide. Indeed, we have this library to help turn that tide.
It is also true that I have grieved over the rapidly diminishing numbers of beautiful children's books in the libraries, in the thrift stores, and in the discard bins. Each library sale I attend yields fewer and fewer treasures.
Eight years ago this month we invited some local families to our home to encourage them to use living books in their children's education, gave demonstrations, showed them the kinds of books we collect, read to them, and basically begged them to try a different kind of library and, even more boldly, a different kind of education for their children. A few of them took us up on it and within a year we were having to put families on a waiting list to obtain membership in our private library.
Tomorrow is library day and I went into my library this morning to begin to get ready. There are stacks of books on every available surface, not enough space on the shelves to put them all away, and I know that as parents and children come and go tomorrow, they will return piles more. They will also be searching for piles more to take home with them to enjoy. Even if I get everything in order today, 24 hours from now, it will look like a book swamp again. It's like this every week.
Rather than be a discouraging or wearying burden, Emily and I actually find it thrilling. After all, doesn't this mean that there are hundreds of books not only coming and going, but actually being read? Haven't our hopes and dreams absolutely come true?
We had a mother write yesterday whose son has, after four long years of hard rowing in the reading river, finally broken into clear sailing on his own into oceans of books. She is grateful. Tomorrow we will hear eager readers retell their favorite finds of the past month. Moms are thankful to have a place where they can easily find plentiful choices of high quality books.
So, though the future of reading in general appears gloomy, I do not despair.
Last spring Emily and I and my youngest son, just a budding reader at the time, were prowling through a building packed with discarded books from a small town's efforts to rid themselves of thousands of unwanted books. I became aware of a conversation between my son and a rather cranky old man.
"Can you read?" he inquired of my son.
In honest humility, my son shyly answered, "A little, not very well yet."
"What grade are you in?" barked the man, sounding indignant.
"Third," his meek reply.
"Well, why don't you spend a little more time with books instead of all your stupid electronic games?" he retorted.
Being brought up not to argue with adults, my son didn't inform him that he's never had an electronic game, but has had a life full of endless hours of reading. I was not unsympathetic to where this man was coming from. I have certainly read the reports, seen the results close at hand, felt that frustration myself.
Just this past week, I was again at a sale, waiting in line for the doors to open, and again eaves-dropped on a conversation behind me in the line. A couple of elderly folks were cynically remarking on the tables piled high around the gymnasium in front of us and how probably no one would be coming to purchase any of them. Their general consensus was that, "People just don't read anymore...it's really sad...guess books are on their way out."
I sighed inwardly in silent agreement. I sympathize with their sentiments, see that writing on the wall too. The state of reading in this country is appalling, and very alarming. I know I am not alone in my concerns.
But, in some of the books I've read, I have learned that battles, important discoveries, the course of history even, has often been altered by the smallest, seemingly inconsequential incidents, that some of the greatest heroes have been unknown and unassuming people who simply did what they knew was the right thing in the right place at the right time.
When we started this library, we didn't have knowledge enough, space enough, or money enough. We didn't have an instruction manual to guide us, or any guarantee for a sure and certain outcome. We did have the need to do something.
Eight years later, we are helping others to catch the vision and start libraries in their communities literally all over the country. Since opening ourselves, we have been instrumental in getting another started 60 miles away from ours; next fall two others in between there and here will be lending books from their homes too.
Good things usually do start with small and seemingly insignificant beginnings. Tiny seeds sown in a field transform it to fruitful abundance in just a few weeks. Ideas gleaned from books take root. Ideas shared with others - like learning through literature, building your own home libraries, and even sharing your collection with other families, also transform lives, communities, and (dare I say it?)--cultures. The future could be bleak, but it also could be beautiful.
I'm choosing to believe that the investment of time to search out superior literature and make it available, to invite others to share in these riches, and nurture them in the exploration of these books, is making a difference.
For the joy of reading,