If you love thrillers, public libraries, or Tess Gerritsen, you're in for a treat today. Tess didn't choose to talk about her new book, Ice Cold, so I'll just mention that it debuted at #10 on Sunday's NYTimes Best Seller List. It's a Rizzoli & Isles thriller. Fans of the series have probably already discovered the new TNT series on Monday nights, Rizzoli & Isles. If you haven't seen it, here's a brief clip, http://www.tnt.tv/dramavision/?oid=56565&eref=sharethisUrl.
When Tess Gerritsen agreed to do a guest blog, I never expected to receive a piece about public libraries that made me cry. Thank you, Tess.
"They cut the city's library budget down to the bone. And approved funding for another damn sports stadium!"
That was the complaint I heard a few years ago from one of my media escorts as he drove me around his town. He said it with a combination of disgust and disbelief. The city, he said, already had one huge stadium; a new one was necessary to keep the local sports teams happy and to sell more booze and tee shirts. As for libraries? Ha! All they're good for is enriching minds, advancing education, and informing the public. Minor stuff when compared to the importance of throwing around a ball.
As I listened to him rant, I could feel my own blood pressure rising in sympathy. I've always thought of the public library as an institution so beloved in this country that it ranks right up there with mom, the flag, and apple pie. While I was growing up in San Diego, my suburban library branch was an anchor of the community, a place where children mingled with retirees, where librarians gave out prizes for children who read the most books over the summer. Twice a week, my mom would drop me off at that modest building, and I'd scoop up the latest mystery and adventure novels. As long as you kept your voice low and didn't raise a ruckus, a kid was welcome there. It was a place to feed your brain, and in that post-Sputnik era, our country was all about advancing knowledge. Education was how America would produce new scientists, discover new medicines, and put a man on the moon. Libraries were a vital part of that effort.
They still are. But every so often, I'm stunned when a news article or a comment reveals that not everyone agrees.
Last year, this news item (http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=325508) appeared in a suburban Chicago newspaper, about a citizen who felt that the local library wasn't worth supporting. He felt it was time to stop "indulging people in their hobbies" and "their little, personal, private wants." Just as startling were the online comments that followed that article, including one contending that libraries should "prove their own worth" in the same way health clubs do. "Why force people who don't use it to pay for it?" And: "With the internet along with every school having a library, is there really the need for libraries anymore? At least, does EVERY town need one?"
Is this what we've come to? Libraries are now mere indulgences, and the internet takes the place of books? Why read a book at all, when you can just click on Wikipedia and find all the information you'll ever need, about anything? And if a kid wants to do something as ridiculous as read a novel, well, too bad for him. If he can't pay for a book, he should just learn to do without.
When I encounter attitudes like this, I wonder if the values I grew up with - a respect for deep knowledge and science, a belief that young minds should be nurtured -- have somehow fallen by the wayside. I worry that people now believe that superficial knowledge, so easily available on the internet, is all they'll ever need to acquire. I worry that impoverished children will never experience the joy I felt as a child, wandering the stacks of my local library.
But then I walk into a busy library, as I did just last month in Portland, Maine, and I see scores of patrons eagerly scanning the new titles. Or I'll travel to a library to give a speech, and encounter a room packed with enthusiastic readers, as I recently found in Bowling Green, Kentucky. And I realize that, yes, there are still plenty of people who love libraries, people for whom reading a book still trumps flitting through internet sites.
Tess, I can't thank you enough for this important blog about public libraries. It means so much to me, and so many people throughout the country. Thank you.
Stop back at the blog tonight, when I'll kick off the contest, giving away two copies of Tess Gerritsen's Ice Cold.
Tess Gerritsen's website is www.TessGerritsen.com
Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen. Ballantine Books, ©2010. ISBN 9780345515483 (hardcover), 314p.