We often hear people say that libraries are magical places. It seems that, as if just by osmosis, some sense of beauty, of history, of curiosity, of warm childhood memories, of potential for access to infinite knowledge, or of a calming peace invades our being when we enter the special ones, when we enter our library. So today, let’s celebrate libraries, the community gathering sites with a soul, which all of us are especially missing right now. How do we celebrate, you ask? How else, but with a good book, or nine, on… libraries.
“The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World” by Guillaume de Laubier is just one of dozens of books on the theme of libraries which Smiley Library houses. It’s not located in our New Book area, but do you think you could pass up looking through gorgeous photographs of magnificent library buildings full of that bewitching allure if you had the chance?! People have been creating some exquisite shrines to the written word for centuries… Do you think our beautiful library could be included?
By the way, you do have the chance to check out library items: though we are physically closed for the moment, our Books to Go program is in full swing, allowing you to select library materials through our extensive online catalog to be picked up at a contactless outdoor appointment. Find our catalog at www.akspl.org (where you can also access eBooks, etc.), or call us at 909-798-7565 for more information.
The newest non-fiction work on libraries in our collection, out this year, is “Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe” by Kathy Lee Peiss. This is an absorbing and expertly investigated account of American librarians, archivists, and scholars who traveled Europe to gather books and documents to assist the military in the war effort, ensuring the preservation of the items, as well as providing critical information for intelligence purposes. Their missions also encouraged the postwar development of American research libraries, some becoming great international repositories of scientific reports, literature, and historical sources.
You knew your librarians and archivists were everyday superheroes, but this is next-level dedication! They are not an anomaly either; I’m reminded of another non-fiction book of a few years ago in our collection, “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: and their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts” by Joshua Hammer, also available as an e-book.
I might also give a shout-out here to the enormously popular 2018 documentary, “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean, readily available here in book, e-book, audio book, and e-audio book formats. Orlean draws a detailed portrait of the history of the 150-year-old Los Angeles Public Library revolving around the tragic losses of a fire which befell it. Her admiration for this institution, not unlike our own, spills out to become a love letter to all libraries.
On the lighter side, Smiley carries fun fiction publications for all ages. From the Young Readers’ Room, “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein, (the sequel being “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics”) is so popular it is provided in three formats: book, e-book, and e-audio book. Twelve-year-old Kyle gets to spend the night in a new library which, come morning, by some kind of alchemy, requires that he and his friends work puzzles in order to escape! Then there is “Evil Librarian” by Michelle Knudsen found in the Young Adult section, in book and e-book formats. High-school student Annie falls for the new, young school librarian who is, well… it’s in the title. If he thinks you’re not looking, you might see his horns–yikes!
Always attempting equal representation, as librarians do, Smiley also offers a publication for cats. (Dogs, I hear ya; you’ll get your turn.) The featured feline of this book is Dewey Readmore Books, his name covertly buried here as a subliminal message. Vicki Myron’s “Dewey the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World” is an older offering available as an e-audio book. This fact is fortuitous because I do not believe cats can read. They can listen to the audio book, well, you know, if they feel like it, and, only if you do not look at them… But I digress. Dewey’s tail, uh, tale is actually remarkably enchanting: this small creature shared of himself and became a friend to all who came into his library. His fame grew until it became international, and through Dewey, an honorary librarian, we see his effect in the healing of his adoptive librarian and of his struggling town.
Let’s look finally at a more recent pick, last year’s “Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town under Siege,” located in the New Books section. Journalist Mike Thompson expounds here on his reporting for the BBC covering the Syrian town of Darayya which saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Syrian civil war. The few brave refugees who remained there after the war took on a dynamic enterprise: to construct a library underground, reclaiming thousands of books from the rubble. According to the author, these awe-inspiring survivors did so in order to construct, “a portal to another world: one of learning, one of peace, and one of hope.”
From this dogged pursuit to move forward we can take a lesson, especially in this dark hour in which we live. Like the refugees, let’s look toward rebuilding, and start with the library, that centering place which is constructed on the tenets of lifelong learning and education, preservation, intellectual freedom, democratic and diverse access for all with privacy, and social responsibility and service to the public good. You know, it just may be the concept of the library, upheld by these ideals, where that magic actually lives.
And so ends my love letter to our library.