“The America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”
— Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut considered almost nothing to be sacred — except libraries. He viewed them as a place to go when you are bereft, lost, lonely, a place which offers the sort of sustenance that calories alone can’t provide.
Never read Vonnegut? I personally cut my teeth on “Slaughterhouse Five,” his bestseller about the Allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II. “Slaughterhouse Five” also contains space aliens, time travel and a scantily clad femme fatale, which prompted a breathless junior high friend to recommend it to me.
And so I made my way to the Flenniken Memorial Library just off the square in my hometown. A week later, I was back for “Player Piano.” And then “Cat’s Cradle.”
My world view and the course of my life would change dramatically over those next few months, all thanks to the planet Tralfamadore and a buxom blonde named Montana Wildhack — and to a tiny public library with a dog-eared collection of books by Vonnegut and Huxley and Hesse, some still bearing my older sister’s name on the sign-out cards from a decade before.
Libraries are incubators where ideas live and grow. But three community libraries in the Jeffco Public Library System have been proposed for closure to address a growing budget crisis.
And libraries aren’t just about ideas anymore. For some, they provide the only affordable access to the Internet, a link to jobs and critical resources. They loan out music and movies. They can help patrons navigate from an avalanche of information to the relevant facts they need.
Jefferson County faces a dwindling pool of tax revenue and increasing needs among its citizens, and many officials say it would be better to sacrifice a few libraries than food and other basic assistance.
But Adrianne Peterson, manager of community libraries for the Jeffco district, can’t fully agree.
“We would hate to see any libraries close at all,” Peterson said. “We see a lot of people who need to use the computer because they don’t have access to one, or who don’t even have experience using a computer. We show them how.”
Peterson also said patrons use library resources for job searches and to sign up for food stamps and other social service programs.
And then there are the kids. The Conifer Library holds story times twice a week, and up to 15 hungry minds and rapt faces hang on every word of those tales.
“Where are these people going to go if they can’t come to the library?” Peterson asks.
I think Kurt Vonnegut Jr. would ask the very same question.
Deep in our libraries can be found some pretty good ideas — things like freedom and justice and opportunity for all. Young readers can and do stumble upon these radical concepts in the most unlikely of places, even on a time-traveling trip to Tralfamadore.
There’s no telling where those ideas will take our young people. But we need to make sure that kids throughout Jefferson County still have a place nearby where they can find the seeds that, once planted, will grow into their futures.
Doug Bell is the editor of the Columbine Courier.