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First published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune: September 19, 2005

Where would we be without libraries?

by Stephen Wilbers

 

Iíve been thinking about libraries lately. Minneapolis is getting a new one, its grand opening scheduled for May 20, and Iím pretty excited about it.

There has been lots of hype. The line Iíve seen in press releases is "With more than 3.1 million items, the Minneapolis Public Library system has the third largest collection per capita in the country, behind Boston and Cleveland."

Thatís impressive, as is Cesar Pelliís soaring design for the new building, but my excitement has more to do with a personal feeling, a deep affection, I have for libraries. Sandra Benitez expressed that feeling when she wrote, "Where else but at the library can be contained all the stories weíll ever need to restore and preserve us?"

And what would we do, I might add, without our writers and poets, the people who recount and preserve those stories, who capture the joy and tragedy of our lives and in so doing remind us of the beauty of our language?

I was especially pleased to learn that our new library is planning to honor Minnesota authors by dedicating chairs in their name in its new auditorium Ė for a price, of course, because the campaign is part of a private fund-raising effort needed to complement public funds.

The idea is that each named chair in this beautiful new state-of-the-art, 225-seat auditorium will stand as a tribute to a dynamic literary community that has contributed so much to the library, its collection, and our community Ė as well as to our lives.

What a great idea. Iím so excited about it I volunteered to organize a grassroots campaign to have more authors named. If youíd like to see if your favorite author has been designated for a chair, go to Minnesota Authors Campaign.

If you donít see the name youíre looking for, get together with your co-workers, friends, classmates, teachers, fellow writers, fellow book-lovers, book club members, dance partners, and fishing buddies, and round up some contributions. Youíll have the satisfaction of knowing youíre part of a community effort to honor some of the people who help give meaning to our lives.

So why should someone reading a column about effective business writing care about libraries or about books and the people who write them? The answer is obvious.

Whether you write for pragmatic or artistic reasons, the library is the repository of our civilizationís finest efforts; itís a community place for citizens to gather and glean information and insight from the wisdom, expertise, and experience of others; itís a dynamic manifestation of our basic human impulse to band together and benefit from collective effort. In the words of Charles Baxter, the library is "one of the traditional markers of civilized life."

Imagine trying to teach a generation of people who didnít read books as children and who donít read them as adults how to express themselves with clarity and emphasis, much less precision and grace. Imagine a workplace environment populated by workers with no sense of history, literature, art, or culture Ė in other words, no sense of the traditions and influences that have shaped them and helped make them who they are.

Itís a scary thought.

 

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