We all love libraries for different reasons—they give us complete access to thousands of books; a comfortable place to read and study; a place to gather with reading groups or friends. This week, we’re celebrating all that is wonderful about libraries in National Library Week, which runs from April 11-17.
Besides winning the Orange Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for her fiction, Ann Patchett has also been honored with the Nashville Public Library Literary Award. We thought she would be a perfect person to comment on the value of libraries in our communities. Read on for her thoughts on supporting the library, broadening its appeal and why libraries are still relevant in a technological age.
What makes a great library?
A feeling of accessibility. A library has to be an integral part of the community. It doesn’t matter how big the building is or how many books they have, what matters is that it’s a place where people feel comfortable walking in the door.
In an age of rapid technological change in books and publishing, why are libraries still vital to their communities?
Well, in part because there are so many rapid technological changes. I certainly don’t understand what’s going on half the time and the library is the first place I’d turn to help me figure out the new landscape. But libraries are so much more than that, they’re also learning centers for the community. That can mean children’s story hour or a seniors’ book club. Not all of our intellectual needs can be met sitting at home in front of a computer screen.
Do you have a favorite library? Do you have a fond memory of spending time there?
I have a deep connection to the extremely grand downtown branch of the Nashville public library. I have a lot of friends there and frankly the building itself feels like a friend. I love the murals in the downtown library in Los Angeles and the dioramas in the Widener library at Harvard. The architecture and the energy in the Seattle library and the Salt Lake City library is nothing short of thrilling to me.
Do you have any suggestions for how people can support their local libraries?
Call me crazy but money is never a bad place to start. If you have a child who is a voracious reader and you’re checking out ten books a week, stop and think every now and then how lucky you are to have access to those book for free and make a donation to cover some of the cost. Times are tight for libraries and they need our help and our involvement.
Is there anything you think libraries can do to broaden their appeal?
I think the recession has already done wonders to broaden the appeal of libraries. More and more people are using their local libraries to fill out applications on line, to check out CDs, DVDs, and, yes, books, as a means of free entertainment. There are smart people there to help us when we can’t figure out how to use the computers, there are programs to take part in when we feel like being with other people. Libraries are always there for us. All we have to do is walk through the door.
If you were trapped in a library overnight, how would you spend your time?
Libraries are famous for comfortable couches, good lighting, and loads of books. I might finally start Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, or I might go and take out the rare books that are locked away in glass cases or I might go and see if anyone had checked out any of my books lately. I’d never have the nerve to do that if someone else was around.
If you had to come up with three “buzz words” for the library, what would they be?
Books, books, books, but then I’m old fashioned. I never get over the joy of walking into a building stuffed full of books.