Recently I had the pleasure of driving through the neighborhood where I grew up. Trips into the past are always bittersweet. Show me a slide-show and I wouldn’t be able to pick out the tiny one-story house where I spent most of my childhood. Pink and gray shingles have been covered with dark wood. The back has sprouted a two-story deck, which raises my curiosity. For a better view of sunsets? To spy on the neighbors? Despite this, the house is now one of the nicest on the street, while the neighborhood itself has declined. Emerald green St. Augustine grass has been replaced by sand, and the lush shrubbery I remember is, for the most part just a memory. Clearly this area, like so much of Florida and the rest of the country, has fallen prey to a weak economy and climate change.
I didn’t visit one of my favorite places. I was five when I got my first library card. The Gulfport Public Library–the present version pictured here–was too far to walk, and my mother never learned to drive. We went when friends or relatives invited us, but I got there whenever I could and always checked out the six books I was allowed.
Had I been given permission, I would have moved into the children’s room and later the adult section. I would have wiled away my nights randomly choosing books from the shelves, or inserting cards into the antique stereopticon viewer and taking random trips around the world through the eyes of another century. I remember the musty odor of the books, the precise place where the first edition Oz series was kept for all to enjoy. Next time I’m in town, maybe I’ll visit the newest incarnation and see how familiar it seems.
I know from your many emails how important libraries are to you. Many of you rely on libraries to read my books. Were you forced to buy every novel you wanted, you would quickly go broke. I understand. When a library buys my books for their shelves, I’ve made a sale, and hopefully new readers have discovered me.
Unfortunately libraries, like my childhood neighborhood, have also fallen on hard times. Recently I’ve received steadily escalating pleas to help libraries all across the country. The most recent came from Oregon. A library structure must be replaced, so would I send an autographed book, contribute a recipe or make a donation? Authors are no longer just the voices on library shelves, we are now being asked to keep the doors open, too.
Do a Google search. Type in “save local library.” See how many hits you receive. Libraries in LA, Chicago, New York, even England and everywhere in between are in trouble. My own library system has cut hours and employees. What about yours?
Authors are generous, and many of us are responding to these requests, but we all know it will take more than a few autographed novels. So what can we do together?
For starters, my Google search turned up a concise, helpful article from the Good Culture site. Take a moment and zip through it. I bet there’s something there you could do to help your own library. Start locally. I’ll be donating books and money to all the libraries in my life. That makes the most sense to me since I can donate more books and pay less postage. Imagine a world without your local library. It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?
While you’re considering how best to help, will you share with us here a memory of a library that helped turn you on to reading? Nothing is a greater catalyst to change than good memories. Let’s all remember together then let’s get busy.
***Just a quick note on another subject. Some of you have asked for an email address where you can send your requests for more Shenandoah Album novels. I’ve just been told this is the right place: firstname.lastname@example.org