Libraries fight money woes, need to balance the books
Smiling faces always seem familiar somehow. But these were familiar for a reason.
Between the mountains where I was born, and the desert I now call home, I spent most of my life in Pacific Grove, a small town on the coast of California.
My three children walked to school, to the beach, to the ballpark and the library. At night they fell asleep to a lullaby of surf and sea lions and foghorn.
Two of the three grew up to be teachers in the area. We scattered their father’s ashes in Monterey Bay. As much as any place, Pacific Grove is home.
So I was not surprised recently, speaking at a benefit for the library, to look out at a roomful of smiling faces and realize I knew most of the audience by name. I even knew the names of their dogs.
The reason for the talk was simple: As in other places around the country, a lack of funding has forced the library to cut services and limit hours.
I was among friends, passing the hat, preaching to the choir. So I told a story about reading, the difference it has made in my life and the lives of those I love. Here’s the short version. My grandmother taught me to love reading by reading to me and making me read to myself. By the age of 9, I was hooked.
The problem was, outside my grandmother’s farm, I had little access to books. It’s hard to read
www.saveillinoislibraries.com without books.
Imagine my delight to discover the public library and the librarian, Mrs. Mary Jane Christopher, who said that anyone, rich or poor, could borrow books for free. For the first time in my life, I felt rich.
My mother was not a big reader. She dropped out of school at 15 to get married and have babies. But she knew the importance of reading. She insisted my blind brother learn to read Braille, though it meant he had to leave home and live at the school for the blind.
My stepfather never learned to read. I found a paper once where his name was written repeatedly. When I showed it to my mother, she said she’d been teaching him to write it.
“Don’t let on that you know,” she said. “He’s ashamed.”
Years passed. I went to college, moved to California, got married and had babies.
Every week, I’d take them to the Pacific Grove Library for a new stack of books. Then I’d read to them and make them read, just as my grandmother had done for me. I did it for them, so they’d learn to love reading, but mostly I did it for me. Reading was my salvation.
My late husband loved hiking in Yosemite. At the end of his battle with cancer, barely able to walk, he’d lie on the couch reading John Muir’s adventures in Yosemite. It wasn’t quite the same as being there, he said, but it was close, and he didn’t have to worry about bears.
Two years later, I wrote a book and was asked to speak at the library in my hometown. In the audience, along with my old Sundayschool teacher, my high-school English teacher and a few sheepish-looking members of my family, was 93-year-old Mary Jane Christopher, who didn’t go out much anymore but insisted on hearing me read.
The next day, when I gave a copy of the book to my stepfather and showed him where I had signed it for him, his eyes welled up like lakes.
“I can’t read a word of it,” he said. “You know that, don’t you? But I’ll surely treasure it.”
After I told that story for my friends and former neighbors, they stopped smiling and began nodding, as if to say amen. I hope you are nodding, too. I hope you will dream, along with me and everyone who loves reading, of a world in which every child will learn to read, every adult will read for pleasure and libraries won’t need fund-raisers to remain free.
Sue Madorin reads a book to children during a program at the Oak Brook Library. Some libraries face funding troubles.|