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Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

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July 19, 2007 | 9 Comments

Dear Garrison,
I just read your article in praise of libraries. I am a retired school librarian and I couldn't agree more with your memories of the libraries of your childhood, and the current state of affairs.

You have put into words the feelings of distress I have when I visit a new library done in "warehouse motif." We have a local library that you wouldn't believe. The major decorating element is "rebar." It hangs from the ceiling in the patron areas and greets you at the entrance. It sounds like something from a comedy sketch, but I'm afraid it is all too real.

Barbara A.
Phoenix, AZ

The 19th Century and early 20th built some magnificent structures, Barbara, and we should not be knocking them down because they are irreplaceable. In my hometown of Anoka, back in the Sixties, a generation of idiots in power destroyed six or seven landmarks of the town, including the old Carnegie library and the county courthouse and replaced them with warehouses. The town lost some of its character and the damage is permanent. Those buildings were loved and the ones that replaced them are merely functional. There is something in the hearts of county commissioners that wants to make an impact with a wrecking ball. But the real fault, I suppose, lies with people like me who saw what needed to be done and didn't do it and who didn't do the hard work of figuring out how to adapt the old buildings to new purposes.


When I was a child, back in the 50's,
my Grandfather would take me each
week to the library. The children's
library was down a long, long flight
of stairs. Once there, all there was
was quiet and that "aroma" of mold,
dust, and old books.In Junior High
we had a full library at our school.I visited every other day to check-out "romance" novels.
As a teenager,the library was "the place
to be" to meet friends. We told our parents
we were going to study, but, well...
Today my favorite place is still the
county library. Here in South Orange
County we are blessed with many
resources. Most of the books I use
for teaching come from the library, and
my grandchildren are now visiting and
checking-out books regularly. Miss Rebecca
at the Laguna Beach Branch has many,
many young friends -- she has great
programs for kids. I wish it
were that way for everyone.

San Clemente, Ca

I guess we're lucky up here on Vancouver Island. The library in Courtenay, for example, is a rather nice timber-frame building with plenty of space and a lounge with fireplace and comfy chairs; so nice in the winter.

Not long ago on The Writer's Almanac you noted, I believe, the birthday of Carol Shields, author of The Stone Diaries, and quoted from the opening chapter. I immediately clicked on the link and ordered the book, something I never have done before. What really shocked me was that the book, which cost only .01, is a beautifully bound library book complete with clear plastic cover, checked out only 13 times, from the Crystal City, Missouri Public Library. In my garage right now are stacks of boxes filled with nearly new elementary school readers I literally saved from the dumpster and I hope will end up in an African school library. Lesotho would be nice; I was a Peace Corps volunteer there.. After I read Ms. Shield's book, maybe I will add it to the pile.

I thought that people in southern Oregon were
smarter than what they have allowed to happen...
the libraries are closed...maybe permanently...
this so called "state of Jefferson" has turned
into something I can't the museums
are closing too! People are making millions off
of growing marijuana legally, but greed has become
rampant...I never thought I see people so selfish that helping ones fellows would become distasteful. Shame on those would give up so can we wake up Americans to remind them of their civil responsibilities?

Our 1903 Carnegie Library, equipped now as an overflow courtroom complete with holding cell, sits empty since the county has built a multi-million dollar justice center. The upside is that suspects are no longer standing outside the building, smoking and spitting. The downside is that the city now wants to have municipal court there two afternoons a week. This library came about because a frail young man, confined to a "rolling chair", contacted Andrew Carnegie requesting a "free library" for those less fortunate than he. His poignant letter brought a quick affirmative response. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the groundbreaking. While out contacting citizens, trying to determine what services they wanted their proposed library to offer, he contracted pneumonia and died a few days later at age 21. A graveside death mask was made, and the entire city mourned a selfless, uncomplaining life cut short. A group is now forming to try to bring the Carnegie back, and to honor a forgotten hero.

Carol Burke
Newnan, Georgia

Dear Garrison,

Thank you for writing so compellingly in defense of old library buildings. I wonder, though, what you would think of the lovely-looking library building in Elgin, Illinois if you were to see it today. It's been turned into a theme park, complete with a loud recording of a space shuttle blasting off every few minutes! So much for the idea of a library as a quiet place for kids to study or find a good book to take home.

Even more disturbing to me than the demolition of a well-designed library building is the newfangled notion in some communities of what a library is supposed to be.

I watched your speech on libraries on CSPAN...loved it and you for even speaking like that about our wonderful (former) libraries!
A prize possession of mine is a library table from an old Carnegie library in my grandmother's home town which she accquired when the old library was torn down and replaced by a modern bunker. Tragic.
And we have amazing county commissioners in our community now who, facing budget cuts, rationalize that we don't need libraries open on the week ends because we have a Barnes & Noble.
Keep up the good work!

Thank you so much for speaking up for Libraries. One of the things I'm proudest of in Oshkosh, WI is our wonderful library. It's a big stone building with a great curving staircase and two stone lions guard the doorway. A few years ago, they tore off the ugly addition that had been added in the 60's and replaced it with an addition that "matched" the rest of the building. The inside was lovingly redone also and the wonderful Mission style furniture was revived. Our library has the most wonderful services and programs for all ages. When friends from out of town come to visit, I always take them to our beautiful library.

I'm in the Park Hill Library in Boston on Tremont Street next to the Park Hill Playground. It's a lovely old stone building with a metal picket fence on the outside. Inside it's Elizibethan, with Cambridge Style room dividers. Some gems still exist! I could stay here all day!

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