First published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
September 19, 2005
Where would we
be without libraries?
by Stephen Wilbers
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.