Saturday, April 18, 2009

At Long Last, a Little Love for Libraries

During my tenure as the late Lois Hole's speechwriter, I wrote dozens, if not hundreds, of speeches on the importance of libraries. Libraries were Lois' number one passion, so I have to give credit to the Alberta government for significantly boosting public library funding. I'm honestly surprised that the provincial Tories are doing this, but I'm nonetheless delighted.

For old times' sake, here's an excerpt from one of the speeches on libraries Lois had me put together, a celebration of the Wildwood public library's 50th anniversary back in 2004. I think she'd be pretty pleased by the government's decision.

...These people, in their quiet way, have maintained one of civilization’s great traditions: the gathering and dissemination of hard-won human wisdom. In this way, libraries have been and shall always be the engines of civilization’s progress.

In fact, without libraries, such progress would be impossible, especially in the modern era. These days, we all depend upon libraries, whether we know it or not.

Because in the library, those with sufficient drive and curiosity can uncover the deepest truths, using books to explore the thoughts and actions of others and to inform their own creativity.

Books are the gateway to a better tomorrow, for books challenge us to use our minds, to find better ways of conducting ourselves and managing the great problems of human existence.

In the library, we can find the resources to examine and confront our most difficult social problems.

Or we can find solace there in times of stress, indulging in the great works of literature, or even the not-so-great – whatever suits your particular taste.

Libraries are as crucial to our survival as schools, hospitals, farms, or any other institution you can name, because they ensure that we need not learn the same lessons over and over again, from scratch. Unlike our stone age ancestors, we can learn from the experience of those who came before.

And that gives us a remarkable power to change and grow and do things better.

But sometimes, because Canada enjoys such a high rate of literacy, we take libraries for granted. Well, we can’t afford to do that anymore.

In an age where giant media conglomerates try to shape our opinions with sound bites, we need books more than ever before.

Good documentaries and news programs have their place, but when you really need to understand an issue in depth, you’ve got to turn to books.

And because books are so expensive these days, libraries have become even more important, to ensure that reading doesn’t become a hobby for the rich.

Without true literacy, democracy itself becomes impossible; the real battle of the 21st century, I believe, will be between those who would use ignorance to serve their own greed, and those who selflessly open the doors of knowledge to anyone who cares to listen.

By building a culture that venerates the principles of literacy, we may yet save ourselves from a grim future of literary haves and have-nots.

Libraries are the cornerstone of civil society, of the liberal democracy that we’ve come to cherish. We must not allow them to crumble into disuse.

...Our libraries require all the love and care we can give them, for libraries don’t just preserve the wisdom of the past; they contain the seeds of a better future.

For fifty years, Wildwood’s library has performed a mission that’s absolutely critical to Alberta’s continued prosperity: maintaining and improving the literacy of our people.

And we cannot underestimate the importance of that mission, for learning to read is the first duty of every citizen; teaching another to do so is the second; using that ability to maintain your education and the education of others is the third. As Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

With those words in mind, I think we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to serve others by keeping learning and literacy alive. One day, hopefully not so very far in the future, everyone on this Earth will enjoy the gift of literacy, and when that day arrives, we’ll be one giant leap closer to building a more just, more peaceful, more prosperous world.

The future of our country absolutely depends upon a literate population, and attaining that goal involves not only vigorous support of our public schools, universities, and public libraries, but also public health care and the fine arts.

All of these institutions, when taken together, form the foundation of a prosperous, literate culture, and we must not neglect any one of these institutions for the sake of another.

As I grow older, I've been thinking more and more about what kind of future the next generation can hope to expect.

While human beings have made a lot of progress, especially in the last hundred years, we also have a long way yet to travel.

Some of the problems we face—hunger, crime, disease, poverty, racism, war—seem almost insurmountable.

It's no wonder that many of our young people have cynical attitudes about their future prospects for employment and a good life.

But we can bury that cynicism if we work together, young and old, to fight poverty, injustice, and racism.

And the best way to build a better world for our children is to fight for our public libraries and public schools.

If I could bestow one gift upon young people, it would be a good education, an education rich in literature, science, mathematics, history, crafts, sport, and the fine arts. It would be an education with no shortage of excellent teachers and a full supply of the world's best books.

And part of that ideal education would include teaching youth about community responsibility, public awareness, trustworthiness, respect, and compassion for their fellows.

Education doesn't just provide the next generation with the knowledge and skills they need to prosper; it also gives them the tools they need to make ethical choices.

Whenever I wonder why we’ve been put on this Earth, the example of the men and women I’ve known gives me my answer: we’re here to help, and to make the world a better place. Any chance we have to make a positive difference, as you have by supporting your library, should be taken: it’s a blessing.

...We all have a very personal stake in libraries, and so we have a responsibility to take a more active role in their maintenance and growth.

In a world of changes, contributing to the health of your library is one of the only legacies that really lasts.

And in building a legacy for your loved ones, you’re also investing in a more literate, more enlightened world.

Thank you, and enjoy your library.

1 comment:

fan for life said...

As I read the funding anouncement I had a vision of Lois speaking passionately about librairies and public education. Thanks for helping Lois. She was a great L-G.