Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, once the richest men in the world, must have known this, when he, a Scottish immigrant, gave his fortune to build 1,689 public libraries across the country. He opened the library in Hinton, and former libraries in Huntington (now Huntington Junior College), Parkersburg and at Bethany College.
Carnegie donated money to build Washington, D.C's oldest library in 1903. It was open to all races (a rarity for public buildings at the time.) During the Great Depression the library was called "the intellectual breadline," because you could feed your brain for free (according to a 2013 piece on National Public Radio, "How Andrew Carnegie Turned his Fortune into a Library Legacy.")
"Public libraries became instruments of change -- not luxuries, but rather necessities, important institutions -- as vital to the community as police and fire stations and public schools," NPR writes.
Melinda Gates applauded West Virginia's library system when she came to our state in 2004: "West Virginia's public libraries are vibrant community centers, where patrons can tap into a world of educational and health information. ..," Gates donated $424,000 from her foundation to expand the state's internet and technology services.
"With 100 percent of the state's public libraries offering free access to the Internet, West Virginia's library system is a national model. I applaud the state's leaders and residents for supporting their libraries and encourage them to maintain this access in the years to come" she wrote on her foundation's website.
Assailing our libraries, with some of the lowest literacy and education rates in our nation, is a conspiracy, while coal and fracking barons, and certain lawyers who benefit from them, fail to give our state what we are owed from draining away our resources.
We rarely bully real drains to our future, pocketbooks and economy. Instead, we go to war with knowledge and the thousands of citizens -- poor, middle class and wealthy -- who all, in equal part, benefit from this service.
Look out your window. Books may be marching.
Kaufman, a graduate of South Charleston High School and a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, teaches at The Mountain Institute in Pendleton County.