“Building a better world” is the theme of the summer reading program for the 39 libraries of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. I love this sentiment. This aspiration motivates us to pull together– so hopeful and counter to the divisive times in which we live.
It also speaks to a prominent builder in American history – Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie who made his wealth building the steel industry and gave away much of his fortune building what became Carnegie-Mellon University and over 2,500 libraries across the country between 1883 and 1929.
He said many things about self-reliance, hard work, duty and wealth. The son of a hand loom weaver with little formal education, Carnegie came from a family that valued books and learning. As a philanthropist he reflected, “It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it as the founding of a public library.” A little meandering in syntax, Carnegie’s commitment to the public library was crystal clear
As a child summertime meant lazy days curling up with a good book. As a parent it meant signing up our daughters for summer reading at Avondale Public Library. Those days are long gone 'though reading continues to captivate both me and my daughters. They've found their own neighborhood libraries in Brooklyn. I give credit to books, librarians, and teachers for shaping who they are. It's what led me to becoming a librarian myself wanting to spread the same contagious fever for new ideas, riveting stories, and mind-bending knowledge. I loved my 16+ years as a school librarian at OLS and the curious young people who walked in the doors seeking a good read and a little sanctuary.
Now I'm inviting students to explore a different kind of knowledge and I'm happily back in libraries this summer. I've shifted from youngsters to adults, particularly those wise with years. The same Avondale children's librarian sought me out to join the adult summer reading program and I am billed as helping patrons "build a better you" with gentle yoga.
I'm having a wonderful time introducing some to yoga for the first time. We breathe, move with awareness, and smile. I am traveling from East Lake (one of the historic Carnegie buildings) to Ensley to Hoover, among other places. I can attest that libraries are brimming with activity from turning kids on to reading to helping adults look for jobs to building community for young and old. So much is happening in these community hubs so don't worry about the future of libraries; their demise is much exaggerated. I’ve met dedicated librarians and loyal patrons.
“It is the mind that makes the body rich,” said Andrew Carnegie. I think he was mining that mind-body connection perhaps without even knowing it.