|NORTH HAMPTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC LIBRARY,|
IN OLDEN DAYS
I’ve had a library card continuously since the age of 6. Those halcyon days when I first learned that the world lent out free books are forever enshrined in memory. Mrs. Craig, the town librarian: combination priestess/nurse with her iron-gray hair and sensible oxfords. The heating register, with its filigreed wrought iron grate, that all through the long, frigid winters exhaled the medicinal smell of heating oil. The shelves of books: balm, even a child could understand, for the wounded human soul.
I kept my card through elementary and high school, college and law school, through 20 years of hard drinking. Living in a cockroach-infested “loft” on
’s Boston Merrimac Street, I still made a bi-monthly pilgrimage to the BPL. Even at my worst, I was still enough of a human being to be allowed free books. Friendless, despairing, I still had Anne Frank, and Ivan Ilyich, and Gregor Samsa.
For those of us who can't afford to buy all the books we read, the library is as essential—perhaps more essential—than a grocery store. We need books to remind us how deeply we are connected. We need books because we know we are going to die. Decades later, the LAPL still gives me reason to live: my online account where I can reserve, renew, and check for due dates; the catalog that allows me to troll for Hans Christian Andersen biographies, or Rouault paintings, or the photos of Larry Clark; the “Hold” section at the Edendale branch in Echo Park where my heart skips a beat when I spot the fuchsia slip with my name inked in black Magic Marker. Is there a more vivid sign of hope that a small schoolgirl, or schoolboy, shifting from one foot to the other, standing in the checkout line with an armload of books? How is the next generation to govern itself, order its priorities, care for its sick, poor, unlucky, unlearned if we fail as a culture and a community to acknowledge the importance of the library?
|ST. AGNES, VIRGIN MARTYR|
|DETAIL OF OUR BEAUTIFUL|
So I came back: to my friends and the food but also to the reduced hours, the cuts, the Sunday and Monday closures, and ever since the light has seemed ever-so-slightly shadowed. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in the ALOUD series, both as panelist and as interlocutor. I know how graced we are to have a public library at all; a place with free books that’s open even one day a week.
But if we can spend $2 million to persuade a Chinese automaker called BYD to open an office on
Figueroa Street, we should be able to find money for our libraries. If we can afford $30 million for a parking garage for Eli Broad’s proposed museum, we should be able to find money for books. If we can afford to pay policemen, we should be able to pay librarians. Because as the children, the teenagers, the elderly, the poor, and those of us who would sooner go without food than without our red, blue, and gold LAPL card know, libraries are about love. The point is always love.
|FATHER LARRY BRITO,|
PREPARING TO CELEBRATE HIS LAST MASS
AT OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE