Monday, August 24, 2009

For the love of libraries ... and librarians

In the summer of 1985, my friend (and fellow geographer) Mike Norris and I hopped in his 1960 bug at the end of our last day of a lousy summer job, and embarked on an 8,500-mile cross-country trek. Driving an air-cooled little car long distances in August required a lot of night-time driving and daytime sleeping.

This is how I came to know Walsenburg, Colorado -- a high-desert town that served as my introduction to the American West. We had drinks in an actual salloon -- it must have been noon somewhere -- with the long bar, big mirror, and everything. I saw tumbleweeds for the first time -- something I would never tire of watching when Pam and I lived in Tucson, years later. (We were there, by the way, for me to get geography education while Pam got library education.)

Mostly, though, I remember a well-kept elementary school with soft grass, where Mike and I were able to find a bit of shade for our daytime lodging. People drove around and thought us a bit odd, but it was summertime and people were not frightened about schools, so we were left to our rest. The next day, we drove on to Flagstaff, just in time for a big ice-carving event at NAU orientation. I remember Mike buying a couple of notebooks so we could pretend to be students there.

I returned to Flag quite a few times, but have not been back to Walsenburg. I remembered it fondly yesterday, though, when I heard a great story about the little town. As regular readers of this blog may know, I live in a town that whacked its library budget before the current recession. In other places, people have faced tough budget choices during the recession, and libraries have suffered.

In Walsenburg, however, the voters realized what has escaped the voters where I live (in the supposedly progressive Northeast): libraries are among a community's very most important resources. With our without the Internet, libraries are a hub of learning and literacy. Particularly in hard times, it makes sense for each member of the community to contribute a little (even if it is hard to come by) to gain access, really, to the whole world.

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