Season 7, Episode 3
April 24, 2022
The Wilmington Library is more of a temple than a building, a full city block wide with ornate designs ringing the upper parts of the structure. But I think it’s the words etched into the walls that made this space feel sacred: philosophy, religion, science on one side of the entry door; painting, architecture, sculpture on the other. As a child, I entered this building with my mother and James countless times, consistently heading to the right toward the children’s section. Waiting for me were the Mr. Men and Little Missbooks, short explorations of one-dimensional characters like Mr. Topsy-Turvy and Little Miss Bossy. As I grew, I began checking out books on dinosaurs, eagerly exploring the Mesozoic Era.
What were your earliest memories of the library? Was it a space of discovery and joy? A space for escape and immersion? How did your time moving through the stacks of books and other media influence who you are today?
For those of us with positive memories of the library, we owe much to the people who came before us. A group of people decided to set aside creative works for others to enjoy for free, and built an institution dedicated to the preservation of those works. It’s a wondrous thing.
So it was that on April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed an act of Congress appropriating $5,000 “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress … and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.” (This was actually part of a larger act relocating the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to Washington.) Over the years, the Library of Congress has expanded its collection and moved into new buildings with direction from leaders like Ainsworth Rand Spofford and Herbert Putnam. It has also – unsurprisingly – faced challenges by small-minded people who lamented the inclusion of “books of an atheistical, irreligious, and immoral tendency” (as Daniel Webster put it in 1815).
That is why libraries may be the most important institutions we have. At a basic level, what we choose to we preserve as a nation says a lot about what we value. Having works that explore a wide variety of emotions, ideas and worldviews means that we are truly committed to freedom of thought. But we don’t hide these things away in storage for safekeeping. We encourage others to engage with them. Take the book with you; read it on the bus; sit outside on the ground and read; shut the door to your room and leap onto your bed and read. These works are meant to be explored, and those who would limit what is included do a disservice not only to their contemporaries, but to all who one day enter the library’s walls.
In celebration of these powerful yet fragile institutions, our theme for episode 3 of Community Radio, season 7 is libraries.
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