When I was a child, I rode the bus with my mother every Saturday morning to the library. The frequency of the trip never made the experience any less magical. At the library, I was literally giddy with anticipation every time I walked in. I could not wait to discover what books I’d be taking home with me this week. My favorite librarian always had recommendations, and I frankly found it miraculous that she always knew what I should read. I loved books so much that my struggle each week was not to read the new ones all at once. I still love books, and I still love libraries.
Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of educated citizens if our democracy was to survive. It was Jefferson who famously said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.” More ominously he also said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Libraries are the cornerstone of our democracy. They are hubs where citizens can continue to inform themselves on almost every subject imaginable. This is especially the case now that libraries offer access to the Internet, a vital technological link for those who cannot afford their own computers. One visitor from abroad told me how amazed she is by our libraries. “You have them everywhere,” she said. “I wonder if Americans realize how lucky they are.” How sad then to read of communities across the nation that are thinking of closing their libraries for lack of funds!
Andrew Carnegie certainly knew the value of libraries, which is why he donated so much money to have so many of them built around the country, one in Nyack. All Carnegie libraries differ in architecture, but they retain three common characteristics: a prominent doorway; a staircase leading to the entrance, representing our individual elevation when we learn; and a lamppost out front to symbolize enlightenment.
Libraries are as important as they ever were, and lest we ever be tempted to think otherwise, it is wise to remember Jefferson’s caution that no society in history has ever been ignorant and free.
Harriet Cornell is Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature. She represents Legislative District 10, encompassing the Villages of Nyack and Upper Nyack, Central Nyack and parts of West Nyack and New City.