By: Sheila Moeschen, IATG Senior Editor
Recently, Malala Yousafazi, the young girl shot in the head by the Taliban for her radical and insufferable loony bird notion that all girls deserve a right to education, opened a new library in Birmingham England. Malala stated:
"Books are precious. Some books travel with you back centuries, others take you into the future. Some take you to the core of your heart and others take you into the universe. There's no better way to explain the importance of books than to show even God chose the medium of a book to send his message to his people.This library will continue to enlighten future generations. It is written that a room without books is like a body without a soul. A city without a library is like a graveyard." (From a report by the BBC News)
Image from globalpost.com
AMEN! This story made me so happy for so many reasons. That this young woman can continue to spread her message of gender equality and basic opportunities for all in the face of continued jag-wangery (that is the technical, diplomatic term) from the Taliban is reason enough to get out of bed in the morning. That Malala reinforces the notion that reading is a critical part of the human existence sets my Liberal Arts, English Major heart on fire. That she goes one step further to champion the need for libraries, free, public spaces for people to step into books, to grab knowledge, adventure, and discovery by both hands, to empower themselves with the ideas of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world, is even more swoon-worthy.
As a kid, the library was my best friend. My mom would take me to the library for story hour (only ONE hour! C'mon! as GOB Bluth would say) and then I would badger her the way other kids nagged their parents for new toys or games, to be able to take home a Levithan-sized stack of books. More times than not there would be the embarrassing negotiation at the help desk:
Mom: "You can choose five."
Mom: "Five this time. We can always come back. Hurry up. We have to go."
Me: "Five and two Choose Your Own Adventures!"
I was a nerd through and through and the library was my sanctuary, my Hogwarts, my fortress of solitude. Just like Malala says, it led me down a long and winding road peopled with revelations in the forms of stories from Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to Nancy Drew and everything by Lowis Lowry to an eclectic buffet of mind-candy by Steven King, Truman Capote, P.J. O'Rourke, Jane Austin, and Agatha Christie to name only a few of the worlds that opened for me on the shelves standing stoically like wise, old Ents in the library's plush, quiet confines.
I felt the same affinity for libraries in college and grad school, and not just because I was in them so damn much. At Northwestern where I earned my PhD, I would often lug all my books and materials to the old portion of the library on the main campus even though there was nothing for me to check out, no journals to peruse, no microfilm to squint at. The library's old section retained its gothic-style features of dark, old wood, high stained glass windows set into sturdy brick, ornate, iron chandeliers hanging over tables and desks that could have come straight from Arthurian England to rest in Evanston, Illinois. I spent hours there. I dragged every friend and family member who came to visit on my own personal tour of the old section of the library. "We can see the Art Institute tomorrow," I'd say. "You HAVE to see this crazy stone staircase! It's like the Hunchback of Notre Dame should be at the top but instead it's, you know, the university's sound effects collection." I was a little obsessed.
know the library is not the typical place where the cool kids hang out. I know it's a little like Sheldon Cooper: not at the top of the social pyramid, not the the most popular, but surely lovable once you get to know him. And I know that libraries are a threatened institution, like so many of our enterprises that give themselves over to the arts and the pursuit of knowledge. And I believe Malala when she says that a city without a library is like a graveyard. I think it's worse, though, I think it's a city without a soul.
So, maybe we need less jockeying for prestigious literary awards, maybe less Oprah helping to drive book sales, and more Malala reminding us about the power of words, encouraging us to protect and preserve one of life's most fundamental humanitarian gifts: our stories