The Reuben McMillan Free Library near downtown Youngstown is a beautiful old building erected in 1910 (and currently undergoing renovations). It was partially funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie, as were many libraries around the country. The first time my father took me there as a boy, I was somewhat in awe of its Classical Revival architecture as I approached the big doors of its front entrance. I had been so excited to learn how to read, but most of the books around our house were too advanced for this young reader.
The real joy came when we went downstairs and I saw the children’s library. We went to the librarian’s desk and I was signed up for a library card. I think at the time you were allowed to check out up to six books at a time. It was wonderful to go shelf by shelf, run my fingers along the spines as I read the titles, and looked for books that I wanted to read.
I loved adventure stories. I remember reading the Adventures of Robin Hood. I also loved science books, and loved reading about space and rockets. Then there were baseball stories. I read about my heroes. Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and about great baseball teams of the past.
We went every couple weeks. Dad would go upstairs where the adult books were while I turned in my books and selected new ones and checked them out and then showed my dad what I had selected. It was not only exciting to anticipate the joys between the covers of the books. It was a special shared moment between my father and me. This, along with observing my mother’s love of reading, cultivated a love of books that has endured six decades later.
How grateful I am for Reuben McMillan, Andrew Carnegie, and all those librarians who recognized and encouraged my love of books. How grateful I am for the public funds that have made possible all the libraries I’ve used over the years in every town where I’ve lived. I still find myself delighted to read the titles of newly arrived books at our local library. How grateful I am for all that libraries have done to expand e-book lending during the pandemic and other safe options for borrowing books.
I realize I’ve written only about books, but I am amazed at the array of services our local libraries offer, including COVID tests! Even when our libraries were closed, local residents could park nearby and use the wi-fi, an important benefit if the family budget doesn’t permit broadband connections. There are reference librarians to help with any information request, homework help, language classes, computer and printer access, and so much more. Children’s librarians not only offer creative programs but work with children to help them find books they will love.
I have a hard time thinking of another organization which does so much for my community and does it with excellence. My library wins “Five Star” awards yearly and awards for financial reporting excellence. It’s the one part of my property taxes I have no problem paying, or increasing when it is needed. I also realize state and federal funding is an important part of library funding. If you believe encouraging lifelong learners is a worthy investment, I think this is one of the best ways to use public funds that will bring a great return on investment.
One can talk about programs and benefits of libraries. But perhaps the image to remember is that wide-eyed child getting his or her first library card and getting to borrow an armload of books. I was once that child. Were you?