CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Histories and archival materials on Appalachia packed the streets. Joined by every travel guide -- Chile, Ireland, Bangladesh --- with how to become a pilot, study for the GRE, volumes on World War II, emotional intelligence, SAT preparation, and how to tap a sugar maple.
Pack your things. Leave. You are through, said the Minute Man. That's it? We're through? parroted back one volume. And so it was, the books were tossed out.
Books took to the streets, clutching nothing but their dust jackets. Every recipe, each play and poem. Books on tape, CDs and DVDs rolled their way through, thick as cars. It was a mass exodus, a Diaspora. Year: 2013.
Computers trailed wires. Poor Harman, with its beautiful new archival room, closed its doors, its attentive librarian stopping her quest for student art to hang on the walls.
Newspapers from the South Charleston library, in acts of defiance, tossed themselves into the Kanawha to see if they could float. Barges met a waterlogged impasse of black type on black reflection.
I cannot image my life without libraries, without the physical space of them, books, librarians. For those that love anything having to do with the quest for knowledge, public libraries are America's best gift and invention. The idea is impressive that you can teach yourself anything by opening a book -- another language, trigonometry, how to wrap a splint.
But the future of libraries in West Virginia appears hazy. Hours are declining, doors are closing on Sundays, there is talk of branch closures. After Kanawha County voters overwhelmingly voted against the school board levy, it is time to think of new ideas of how to keep libraries alive.
One idea: financial transparency. We should be able to vote in an itemized way. Instead of voting for one amount, there should be different categories broken down by how money is spent. In this way, we know where funds are going. I believe libraries would gain more support in this fashion.
Any person on a West Virginia school board, or the head of any political party, who does not support free, public libraries needs to go to one more frequently. They are one of the great democratic things left.
In some states, one can rent art materials and passes to see art exhibitions and concerts. Most libraries hold summer reading programs, sponsor read-aloud programs for children and workshops for all. They employ people in safe working environments. Free public libraries are nonnegotiable in their importance to our democratic experiment and adventure.