Thursday, August 21, 2008

Long Live Libraries!

Libraries are some of my favorite places in the world. They have been my homes away from home, places where I've worked, and somewhere I knew I could go to to gather my thoughts before continuing on with my apartment search. Central Library in downtown Portland was that temporary retreat for me on my first day in this new city. Opened in 1913, the building underwent major renovations in the mid-1990's adding modern day conveniences but retaining its historic characteristics. Some of the more architecturally interesting features are the first floor stairs with its "Tree of Knowledge" artwork and the Beverly Cleary children's library housing a magnificent bronze statue of a tree carved with images from everyday life and classic literature.

Libraries have the reputation of being these ancient stuffy buildings with out of date books and stern librarians waiting around corners ready to "shoosh" you with the slightest sound from your lips. But that's not the case anymore. Not only do they have the latest releases in books and a whole array of reference materials but they also have the most recent DVD's and CD's ready for check out. They even hold all kinds of free activities like book club discussions, writing workshops, and computer and language classes just to name a few. I think one of the best and smartest things anyone can do is to get a library card and take advantage of all the services it has to offer.

This past Sunday, I attended a special screening of Ann M. Seidl's documentary "The Hollywood Librarian" at Central Library. The film takes "a look at librarians through film" and, in fact, that served as the subtitle. Since it's no secret how much I love and laud libraries, this was definitely something I had an interest in seeing. There was a good turnout for the event- a majority of whom were librarians.

The film was mostly inteviews interspersed with movie clips. It was nice listening to the librarians because they clearly loved what they did and I felt a bond with them since ultimately we were all readers, lovers of books and of the written word.

An interesting segment was how in the town of Salinas, California, famously known as the birthplace of John Steinbeck, an election was held to see if they could overturn the measure that threatened to close its three public libraries. I find it hard to imagine living in a city without one. And it's disheartening to think how funding for their continued presence becomes less and less every year. Fortunately, that little drama had a storybook ending with 61% of the voters deciding in favor to keep their libraries open.

Watching "The Hollywood Librarian" just reinforced my belief how libraries provide such a great and valuable service to their communities, not only as a source of knowledge and information but of enjoyment as well.

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