Temples of book worship

If you visit, or subscribe to, this blog, you love books.  And if you’re anything like me, you caught your bibliophilia from a library, most likely the one in your home town. Here was mine, in Santa Cruz, California, a building I visited at least once a week when we lived there in the early fifties:

This was one of some 2500 libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, who believed that  success was due to hard work and a bit of assistance with the tools of self-education.   If you can’t imagine a town without a library, accessible to all, that’s due in large part to Carnegie’s philanthropy—of the 3500 US public libraries in 1920, half were built with Carnegie monies.

My family moved a lot when I was a kid because, rumor had it, my father would read his way through one library and want to shift to another.  Now, I buy most of the books I read for pleasure (often donating them to one library or another afterwards) but for research, I depend on places with huge stacks of old books.  I feel at home there.

When the Internet was rising up around us, talk was that libraries were doomed, that they were costly anachronisms that would soon be echoing and empty.  However, the process of reinvention would have made Andrew Carnegie proud: libraries everywhere are becoming the hub of their community, with books, yes, but also with computer terminals, literacy classes, meeting rooms, lecture halls, even cafes for those who prefer to study in a noisy hubbub.

When I go on book tour later this month, the book’s launch will be at a library.  If you’re near Boston, please join us.

Next week is National Library Week.  My friend Neil Gaiman, Newberry Award winner, national treasure, and all-around Good Guy, is the Honorary Chair—go buy one of his books to say thanks. (And when you’ve read it, maybe donate it to your local library?)  To celebrate Library Week, as our Twenty Weeks of Buzz draws towards its end, we have a contest going.

My Fantasy Library can take any form you like: essay,  poem, drawings, Photoshopped images, YouTube performance, it’s up to you.  The theme, obviously, is what your fantasy of a library would be.  Public or private library, large or small, general or specific—this is your fantasy.

(One of my favorite blogs, Curious Expeditions, did a post a while back that amounts to porn for librophiliacs, a mouth-watering, mind-boggling set of photos of libraries around the world, that you can wander through for inspiration.  Although as the disclaimer says, they’re not responsible for any scrolling-related injuries.)

If your vision of the ultimate library wins, you get prizes, of course—the details are here.

But if you win, your favorite real-life public library (Carnegie or not) also gets prizes:  All 20 Laurie R. King novels.

The contest closes at midnight, Pacific time, this Sunday.  Let your mind roam free, and let us know what you come up with here.


  1. Gail Lelyveld on April 8, 2010 at 4:54 am

    Well I was going to thank you for having this contest because I can work on this piece and develop it. I am please with what I sent you, but I thought of more things a few days later. I was thinking of my library when you said you would give 20 books to the library of the winner. I live in Washington, DC. You know our in country colony. Well, we have had so many cutbacks in the library budget that some have closed. Mine, DC Northeast, had the hours cutback. I was aghast. They always cutback the wrong thing. One of the nice things about the library is that it is a place for the homeless to get out of the cold and heat. We do have computers for people who are looking for jobs or doing taxes or email. I bring my books to the library. They participate in the most wonderful book sale. There are thousands of books. I have come away with wonderful bargains. I love my library, but I’m not the only one.

    Thanks for the opportunity to practice writing
    Gail Lelyveld

  2. Laidee Marjorie on April 8, 2010 at 5:01 am

    And this was my library growing up in Connecticut where I also sent many happy hours in the stacks. The two libraries look similar, don’t they?



  3. Merrily on April 8, 2010 at 5:27 am

    I too first fell in love with books in a Carnegie Library, this one in St. Petersburg, Florida.
    One of my favorite quotes about a library, from Archibald MacLeish: “The existence of a library is an assertion, a proposition nailed like Luther’s to the door of time…it asserts that the reason why the ‘things’ compose a mystery is that they seem to mean: that they fall, when gathered together, into a kind of relationship, a kind of wholeness, as though all these different and dissimilar reports, these bits and pieces of experience, manuscripts in bottles, messages from long before, from deep within, from miles beyond, belong together and might, if understood together, spell out the meaning which the mystery implies.”

  4. jtb1951 on April 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Let’s hear it for public libraries!!! My dad fostered my love of reading by taking me (and sibs) to the Logan Square branch of the Chicago Public Library. I remember how grown up I felt when my “juvenile”-stamped library card was exchanged for an adult card and I had access to everything!!! I would ride my bike over to the library and choose my allowed allotment of books, then sit for hours reading through the encyclopedias (weird, huh?). Since they had several different sets of encyclopedias I had a few great years of learning about absolutely everything! The best times, though, were during the summertime when restrictions were dropped and one could check out as many books as one could carry; Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke and Bradbury and Sturgeon got me hooked on science fiction and I haven’t looked back since 🙂

    I managed to read a couple hundred books a year, and if I had been able to realize at that tender age that good books were being written faster than I was reading them I probably would have torn through them even faster! My current library is the Carol Stream Public Library, which I’m sorry to say hasn’t received the popular support necessary to be all it could be. Folks would rather spend their money on their SUV’s and vacation homes than providing an invaluable resource for their children and community; most of them will never realize how selfish they are! Enough of the soapbox rant (not too bitter, eh?)


  5. MaryL on April 8, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Here in Charlotte the County suffered a great budget shortfall and announced they were yanking the Library’s remaining 2010 monies. This lead the trustees to vote to close 12 of 24 branches, and layoff the staffs. The public outcry was immediate, and loud, and a public donation campaign spontaneously erupted. The trustees then decided to keep the branches open but reduce the hours and services. At least until July 1 when the County has threatened to reduce funding by 1/2 for fiscal year 2011. It saddens me greatly-in these economic times, the libraries and schools (also under the budget gun by the County) are more necessary than ever. Of course, certain KnowNothings have written to the paper stating that libraaries are a waste of money as they are only used by the inebriated sleeping it off. These indviduals seem to still be employed, and NOT in need of the FREE internet and newspapers available. Not to mention the sheer human companionship to be found, and (just as necessary) the value of escape into somewhere/when else. OK enough of the rant. Suffice it tosay I too love my library,and can’t imagine what my community will be like when they finally get their way and shut it down.

  6. La Donna on April 9, 2010 at 11:14 am

    To repeat what I said on Facebook: “If you all love libraries this much be sure to be an advocate — in spite of increased circulation numbers and numbers of people through the door libraries are under attack — generally by elected officials or administrators who don’t use their own library! Find out how your local/school/academic library is funded (it varies from state to state, school to school, institution to institution) and then make sure that you are a voice! Library directors in all situations would love to have you ask questions and advocate, advocate, advocate!!”

    We’ve lived all over the place and the first thing we do after the moving van is empty is get library cards. My kids will tell you that that is because I am a librarian (currently unemployed because my job and the department was cut due to the current fiscal crisis — and no one stood up to point out the ramifications of cutting said services) but it is more because I know the value of libraries. They roll their eyes when I ask whether they looked at the school library for whatever they are researching. They moan and groan when I say that the first thing we do during a campus visit is check the library. And then get impatient when we don’t make our weekly trip to the local branch library.

  7. Bruce Cotter on April 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks for the picture from Santa Cruz, as an ex citizen of the city on the Monterey Bay it was a pleasure to see it again. I wanted to just drop a positive word for the relationship of some town administrations and their libraries. I live in Stratham, NH, a relatively small (7000 ish) town near the NH seacoast. I am the chair of the trustees of our library, which outgrew its Carnegieesque location in the 80’s and moved into a former elementary school building.

    Over the past two years, our town, despite the tough economic times, has voted for significant warrants to renovate our building. This is in addition to the operating budget which comes out of the town tax funds. The community support has been strong, the votes have been overwhelming, and the support of our Town Administrator and all three of our Selectmen has been unwavering.

    As a library board, and through great efforts by our terrific library director, we have developed this relationship with the Selectmen over a number of years. So please don’t give up hope. There are towns all over the country where citizens, politicians, and administrators love their libraries, and recognize the critical role they can play as community centers and sources of information and entertainment for an informed citizenry. Yay National Library Week. Thanks Laurie for your support of libraries!

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