By Arthur H. Gunther III
What better topic on April 16, National Librarian Day, than to hail those women and men who encourage reading? The old slogan, “Reading is Fundamental,” is apt since the flow of ideas and free thinking, without which democracy and progress cannot exist and flourish, derives from absorbing one word after another. Librarians enable us to do that.
It is ironic, though, that most librarians, and I am including all who work in libraries, are paid little relative to other professions, and often there is required masters degree training. Libraries are also among the first to receive government budget cuts. Yet not one foot has ever gone forward in the chasing of our own nation’s manifest destiny without at least one leader who is well-read.
Yes, he or she may have been self-schooled, self-motivated in picking up a book, reading and absorbing words, using those words to formulate thinking and to foster inventiveness, but somewhere before there was a keeper of books who loaned that person the first reader.
Often it’s your mom who is your initial “librarian,” since she reads to you, and today dads are there as well. And both may take a child to their first library.
When I was a young fellow, lucky to grow up in a small village of the 1940s and ‘50s where the tiny public library was built by the generous Finkelstein Family, many an otherwise boring day was spent walking a mile and a half to sit amongst the beautiful wood shelves filled with so many books. Miss Heitman, the librarian, let kids look for themselves, and I soon found the biographies I liked best. While I proved an intially poor reader (years later after great difficulty in early college years, I learned I had a reading/comprehension deficit), the love of words began with that library and that librarian. It proved, though subconsciously at first, to be the incentive to a career using words as a newspaperman. It was also through books that I was able to develop a shorthand way to compensate for my learning deficit.
I also married a woman who, besides teaching, has been and is again a part-time librarian. She reads constantly and has filled our home with books. The first son, a teacher, absorbed that atmosphere so much that his own being, family and house are infused with reading. His children are lucky to walk to their own local library in Nyack, N.Y. The second son, though not a reader as such, uses words in special ways in his job at the Smithsonian.
I also have a friend in Colorado who chases words and who has been a librarian and teacher. And in my youth I knew other strong readers.
So, I have much reason to thank all the librarians out there who have affected my life, and so do you. Hail to our librarians, who offer us words in print, now digitally as well, and who guide us to all manner of information. What a road map they provide.