As I enter our downtown library I’m reminded of a famous quote by science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, “Libraries raised me.” Growing up in Bermuda, the one small public library was a treasure and my grandmother donated the Encyclopedia Britannica to it. When we came to America as a kid, we lived in several different communities before settling in Long Island, New York. Lacking any sense of direction I often got ridiculously lost, but agree with Albert Einstein who said, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”
I couldn’t imagine that America would countenance the banning of any books. No matter where we were, my father took me and my brother to the library every weekend and we weren’t allowed to leave until we’d chosen books to check out. Reading was embedded in my brain and as the years went on, libraries were a constant part of my world. As Germaine Greer said, “Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark … In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.”
So when the Americans and the Holocaust traveling exhibit came to our public library and the call for volunteers went out, how could I not step up. And I’m so glad that I did. It was an amazing experience to serve the incredible variety of people coming to see the exhibit. How wonderful to have Jessica Sedgwick, Head of Local History and Genealogy, say: “Our docent volunteers were invaluable to us during the Americans and the Holocaust exhibition. Their passion and knowledge about the subject matter enhanced the experience of our visitors.” Wow!
I was reminded that one of my first jobs was working in a library, and I miss doing that even more now. I’m heartened by the words of Andria Davis, Librarian 1 and Volunteer Coordinator, as she talked about the many options for taking part in the work of the library. “Volunteers help library staff in a variety of ways, from shelving books to packaging seeds for our Seed Exchange. Through this program, we can offer non-residents the opportunity to get a free library card. Our volunteers enrich the library experience for our guests through their hard work.
The library not only serves the community, but it’s a hang-out for like-minded folks. Its docent book club nurtures the connections that we made during the Holocaust exhibit. This week, our docent book club watched my documentary: Untold, Stories of a World War II Liberator. Filmed at Chattanooga’s Jewish Federation with well-known members of the Jewish community, our discussion was fascinating, including the suggestion that the documentary would be an asset for our schools.
Yes, the Holocaust can be controversial and some historical resources are being banned. And some may consider the trend to ban books as a reason to stay away from libraries. But as fellow docent Irv Ginsberg said, “We must be soldiers and help out the libraries.”
Now is the time to support a public institution where the world of books resides, creativity is encouraged and curiosity is inspired. Come volunteer at this community treasure that also houses both a public laboratory focused on design, technology, and the applied arts and a state-of-the-arts recording studio.
Remember President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s words more than 60 years ago. “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book…”
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