Tag Archives: democracy

All Day, And All of the Night: Read to the People

What do Urban Mommies, a famous Froggy, and a local mystery maven have in common?  They’ll all be making an appearance at Read to the People, the 24-hour read-a-thon that begins today at noon.  That’s right:  144 volunteer readers, including many local celebrities, signed up for a collective 1,440 minutes of reading out loud to raise awareness of the Our Library, Our Future voter initiative.   That’s 24 hours of library love.  Makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over.

I’m biased, of course.  But, quite frankly, even if I didn’t work here, I’d still visit every day.  For starters,  you’d better believe I’d be getting my money’s worth from the library.  The amount of money I save on books alone is so embarrassingly high I’m surprised it’s not illegal:  $850 per every fifty books checked out on my card.  That makes the cost of a Donor Plus membership look, by comparison, decidedly affordable.  Add in the value of free internet access, free magazines and research journals, free cultural/educational programming, and all the other free perks that come with library membership? I’d be a fool not to spend my time here (especially if I were actually searching for a new job).

It’s the intangibles that matter most to me, though, namely my emotional attachment to the library as a palace of letters and light.  Illusory though it may be, it comforts me to think that, in our frazzled, consumption-driven world, there is still one place where any citizen may go and be treated with courtesy and respect.  One haven where, if they’re willing to work and learn, people can teach themselves anything they care to know.  A sanctuary that values both quiet spaces and noisy, cheerful, collaborative ones.  A place for children to dream and explore, and for adults to remember how to dream and explore.  A safe space to navigate the sometimes muddy waters of being a teen (and, of course, to have fun while doing so).  A place where, no matter how many times you’ve failed, you can always start over.

As lovely as all that sounds, I know that libraries can’t sustain themselves on dreams and illusions.  They need you:  your time, your ear, your voice, your donations, your vote.  That’s why I’m part of the volunteer crew staying up all night for Read to the People:  I love the library so much, I’m not content to be with it in the daytime. I’m going to stay up all night to support it, and so are a lot of your friends and neighbors.  Won’t you join us?

In conjunction with the brouhaha, Eleventh Stack will update frequently this weekend with photos and short posts about read-aloud festivities.  You can also get read-aloud tidbits on Facebook and Twitter, and participate virtually by retweeting and sharing links and photos in your social networks.  Spread the word, and we hope to see you soon, either outside or online!

—Leigh Anne

serendipitously celebrating nine years of library employment today

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Pittsburgh’s Ultimate “Reality Show” Seeks Contestants

No, the Eleventh Stack blog hasn’t been purchased by a major network — it’s a metaphor!  Pittsburgh’s ultimate “reality show” — a/k/a the actual future of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — can’t evolve without more input from y-o-u.

In May, the library started a community conversation process that garnered real ideas from actual Pittsburghers about how to create a sustainable library future.  You can read summaries of the four May meetings below — please note that these files open as .PDFs:

May 15th — morning workshop

May 15th — afternoon workshop

May 16th — afternoon workshop

May 17th — evening workshop

Pressed for time? Take a peek at the cumulative summary.  Many people chose to provide feedback online, too, so we’ve summarized that input for you as well.

This is where you come in:  the second round of Community Conversations begins on July 17th.  Consider this an “open casting call” for Pittsburghers of all ages, especially if you weren’t able to participate in May (click here for a video summary of what you missed).

All fired up and ready to play?  The July Community Conversations will take place as follows:

Saturday July 17th
10 a.m. – noon
Stephen Foster Community Center — Lawrenceville
286 Main Street, 15203

Saturday July 17th
2-4 p.m.
Warrington Recreation Center — Beltzhoover/Allentown
720 Warrington Avenue, 15210

Sunday July 18th
2-4 p.m.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Brookline
708 Brookline Boulevard, 15226

Monday July 19th
7-9 p.m.
Union Project — East Liberty
801 North Negley Avenue, 15206

Each session will follow the same format and cover the same territory, so you need only participate in one (repeat attendance does, however, earn you hardcore library supporter props, and library worker love).  Round two consists of:

  • a briefing on the themes developed in Part One
  • a presentation of ideas for the future
  • an interactive discussion of those ideas

It’s the “interactive” part that’s key to the success of the “show;” we need to know

  • which ideas and themes resonate most strongly with you, the library user
  • which ideas are better than others
  • why you prefer the ideas you do, and
  •  if you have any ideas that somehow didn’t come up in Part One

Other things you need to know as a “contestant:”

  • You don’t need to pre-register!  Just show up.  Bring friends.
  • Light refreshments will be served.
  • Children are definitely welcome!
  • Discussion guides for round two will be available here by July 10th

Still have questions?  Maggie McFalls, the library’s Community Engagement Coordinator, will be happy to answer them.  You can e-mail her at feedback@carnegielibrary.org or call 412-622-8877.

Obviously, the future of one of the best public library systems in the known universe (I’m a touch biased) is far more important than anything currently on television.  After all, if we don’t work together to find a sustainable solution, the consequences are more serious than getting voted off an island.  Without access to a good library system, the “biggest losers” are the American dream, the democratic process, and the well-informed citizenry upon which our society is built.

Don’t let it happen on your watch!  Join the conversation, and make your voice heard.

–Leigh Anne

who thinks “Big Bucks, No Whammies” would make a fabulous advocacy slogan, if it weren’t already taken.

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Literary Autodidacts and Public Libraries

You may have recently come across a New York Times article about Ray Bradbury, his love of libraries, and his fight to keep California’s public libraries open. There’s a great quote from Bradbury in that article that I’ve read over and over again:

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Mr. Bradbury’s experience as a public library autodidact got me thinking about other self-educated literary individuals and the role of public libraries in their lives. Here are a few that come to mind:

Isaac Asimov — One of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Asimov created amazing visions of the future, especially those in his famous Foundation series. Asimov’s autobiography I, Asimov contains a full chapter on the role of the public library in his life, about which he says the following:

I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library.  For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.

Junot Diaz — Diaz recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and his earliest literary influences were discovered at, you guessed it, a public library. As Wikipedia explains, Diaz grew up poor in New Jersey, but “was a voracious reader, often walking four miles in order to borrow books from his public library.”

Jack London — London was self-educated at the Oakland Library in Oakland, California. As the story goes, London was befriended and mentored by librarian and poet Ina Coolbrith, and an assistant in the reference room, Fred Jacobs. The library remained a constant source of inspiration and renewal for London after his many adventures, and also plays a big part in his semi-autobiographical novel, Martin Eden.

August Wilson — The famous playwright August Wilson is one of Pittsburgh’s own! Born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Wilson knew at a young age that he wanted to be a writer, but often found his dreams stymied by poverty, discrimination, and a failed education system. Fortunately, he had another road to education: the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. As he explains in an interview in Conversations with August Wilson, the library was his salvation:

My mother taught me to read when I was four years old, and in the library for the first time in my life I felt free. I could read whole books on subjects that interested me. I’d read about the Civil War or theology. By the time I left the library, I thought ‘Okay, I’m ready. I know a lot of stuff.’ It always amazed me that libraries were free.

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While public libraries remain wonderfully free to use, there are a lot of costs involved in making them that way. As we’ve pointed out here recently, and as Ray Bradbury laments, unfortunately, it’s getting harder to meet those costs.

Take a moment to consider the fact that without public libraries the above literary autodidacts might never have had the opportunity to learn and become writers. A world without Jack London’s stories?  No thanks! But the simple fact is that while reduced funding could mean reduced materials, library hours, and librarians, it definitely means reduced access and opportunity, a veritable reduction in the freedom August Wilson so appreciated.

Who knows how many future Pulitzer Prize winning authors are taking advantage of their public libraries as you read this?  Let’s do what we can to make sure we can keep opportunity open to them.

–Wes

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