Libraries Change Lives
Thursday, October 23, 2014
"As a child, my number one best friend was the librarian in my grade school. I actually believed all those books belonged to her."-Erma Bomeck
I was honored to be the kickoff keynote speaker for the Michigan Library Association's 2014 annual conference in October. The event was held in Grand Rapids at the Amway Grand, and the entire experience matched the hotel's name and beauty: It was a grand day.
I received such an overwhelmingly positive response to my keynote, on which I talked about my enduring love for libraries and my gratitude for their influence on my life, that I was asked to share some of my thoughts. A few excerpts follow.
My suggestion? Visit your local library. Our libraries are not only worlds of information and enchantment for children and adults, they remain the centers of our communities.
This morning is particularly special to me because one of my earliest and fondest memories is going to the library, hand in hand with my grandmother, who used to volunteer there. Walking inside our local library, to me, was akin to entering heaven. It smelled like another world, a magical world, a world filled with secrets that I needed to know.
My grandmother was a voracious reader, and she and my mother helped make me one as well. My grandmother's two favorite books were The Bible and Walden, and she jokingly said that in the Ozarks, where I grew up, it was heresy to read much else than the Bible or to put any book on a similar level. But she felt reading wasn't just great entertainment but a key to understanding the world and those who were different than she was.
I spent hours in that library, reading, talking to the librarians about their favorite books. It was there that I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (Nancy Drew, of course, came first for me!). I read Where the Red Fern Grows and Call of the Wild. I read newspapers. I read magazines. I even read Erma Bombeck.
My grandmother's refrain was always: " How many books do you think you can read this week?"
Every summer was spent with my grandma and grampa at their log cabin on Sugar Creek. We had nothing but each other and books: No microwave, no TV, no phone. When my grandma would head up for groceries, she would also return with a truckload of books. She would read to me as we rocked on a glider that sat on a bluff overlooking the water, I would read in tree swings and on innertubes as I floated in circles. I would read on our rocky beach and by candlelight before I went to bed.
I read, and I read, and I read. And that's when I started to write.
I often felt as if I didn't fit in, and the local library served as my refuge. I was encouraged not only to read, but to be smart, to think critically, to think beyond the small world in which I lived. More than anything, I was encouraged to dream, and let me tell you this, once that seed is planted, it immediately takes root in a child's soul. There is nothing bigger, or more special, than a dream.
Even in college and graduate school, libraries remained the center of my – and my friends' – world. That is where we studied, we researched, we gathered, we read.
And despite the stunning sea change in our library system today – as well as in publishing, believe me, I understand – that core has remain unchanged. Reading changes lives. Books change lives. Libraries change lives. And they remain the centers of our communities and our lives. I'm here to restate the obvious: What you do changes lives.
It changed mine.
And it continues to do so: I have traveled the US speaking at libraries – from Michigan, to Chicago, to California and the Carolinas – and I have been stunned at their enduring power. I have spoken to children in grade school and to women in their 90s. You have made me feel – more than anywhere else save for our nation's independent booksellers – that what I do is vitally important. And if you don't think that fuels a writer's soul – you are very mistaken.
So, I simply want to say, upfront, what I'm sure too few people say to you on any given day: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.