A Heartfelt Thank You to Libraries

My town, Maitland, is small. So is Maitland Public Library. But it’s our library and it’s a treasure, a beating heart of the community from the get-go. It occurs to me that a ridiculously high number of my most satisfying experiences as a writer have taken place within its venerable walls, and within those of other public libraries as well.

Maitland Public Library launched in 1896 with 360 books donated by Clara Dommerich, and operated in the small home of schoolteacher Emma Dart. Donations of books kept coming and the collection quickly outgrew Emma’s cozy front room, so businessman W.B. Jackson stepped up and housed the library in his store, where it became the hub of social life. In 1908, the collection moved into its present home, a sturdy brick building exuding solidity and permanence, designed at no charge by architect Charles B. Waterhouse, son of one of Maitland’s first families, and funded by inspired folks and bake sales.

Our local writers group met at the library every month, and the staff treated us royally, providing space, A-V equipment, and expertise, and plying us with coffee and tea. And then leaving us in peace with our nefarious schemes and plot devices.

The library also hosts regular adult writing and poetry workshops twice a month, a poetry “coffeehouse,” four different book clubs, and “Adventures with Books” for homeschooled kids three times a month. What else? Well, there are separate storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers, and even storytime yoga for little children. There are classic movies you can’t find on Netflix. Free audiobooks. Cooking classes.

To make room for new books, sometimes a purging of the old is called for. Book sales are held, an opportunity for avid readers and persons of limited means to buy high quality, gently loved hardcovers at bargain basement prices.

With the waves of hurricanes that have bludgeoned us in recent years, Maitland, a leafy green place shaded by large trees that are fond of falling and taking electric lines with them, suffered repeated power outages lasting days and weeks. But the library always soldiered on, keeping its doors open, its lights on, and its air-conditioning cranking so that we can escape the dog’s breath heat and humidity for a few hours, read the news, send emails, and recharge our devices. Don’t underestimate what that means to a family sweating through an August outage with no AC and no end.

While Maitland Public Library is a model of civic service, it’s not alone, mirroring others in towns big and small across America.

In March, Maitland held a referendum on building a larger, state-of-the-art library near the existing one. I was excited by the prospect, having responded in voluminous detail last year to a questionnaire about what I’d like to see in a new library. Yet because others may not be as passionate about libraries as me, I didn’t give the referendum much chance. I was happily wrong; it passed easily with 62% of the vote.

So get thee to your library. Renew your card, prowl the stacks, enjoy the quiet. Thank your librarians for their dedication and passion, and thank those visionaries that put free lending libraries—one of the great gifts of and to civilization—within reach of us all.

For a little bonus of pure bookstacks inspiration, enjoy some of the world’s great libraries.

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