Can you name the famous person who made the statement in our title today?
Do you agree or disagree with it?
A few years back, while I was with a group of 8th graders in Washington DC, on tour at the world’s largest library, hanging on a beautiful banner was the quote, “I cannot live without books. Thomas Jefferson.” Walking beside me was one of our kids who wasted no time sharing his strong disagreement, as he loudly and emphatically blurted out, “I CAN!”.
I had chuckle because I knew him and realized how true it was, but in fact, it’s not really funny.
Although the literacy rate in the world increases by 4% every 5 years, I’m not certain the love of reading does. JK Rowling once said, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” Today, only 14% of the world’s population remains illiterate. That’s a far cry from Thomas Jefferson’s day, in 1820, when only 12% of people in the world could read.
Books transport us to new worlds but also take us back to important moments. Books help us to develop our vocabulary, reduce stress, prevent cognitive decline, and increase our ability to emphathize. It is said, that reading books helps you to look after your mind and body.
What got me into this book thinking mode was what I did yesterday. After living in our city for over a year, I finally decided to visit our beautiful city library. I thought is was beautiful on the outside and that lured me inside.
Now, I’ve been a library card carrying reader for years. Geesh, I remember the days of going to the library and checking out every single state book on their shelf, for my 5th graders who were doing their famed state report. And when we moved to this county, I got a new library card that was for the County library system.
After walking around the library yesterday, enjoying all I saw, I decided to get some new reading material. While searching the shelves, I was pondering how many people never darkened the doors of a library and enjoyed this wonderful sense of being surrounded by millions of possible journeys, discoveries and challenges. How many were simply missing out?
As I finished my search and went to the desk to check out, come to find out my previous card was not the card I needed for THIS library, which, as I said, was a city library. Of course, the young man was more than able to get me set up with my new library card for that library.
There are 116,867 libraries of all kinds in the U.S. According to the American Library Assocociation the four kinds of libraries are:
- academic – the ones attached to schools and universities
- special – they serve a particular group of people (employees, military, ect.)
- public – also called “circulating library” because they are accessable to the public to circulate books. (My county and city libraries fit here)
- national – these are specifically established by the government to serve as the preeminent repository of information for the country. The public can’t borrow books here, but they can view books and items in the facility (or online now, too)
Although the United States does not have a national library, like other nations, they do however, have five that are recognized as being national in scope. These include:
- The Library of Congress – this is the place where my dear 8th grader made his statement about books
- National Agricultural Library
- National Library of Education
- National Library of Medicine
- National Transportation Library
Let me close with some startling facts about the world’s largest library – The Library of Congress, located in Washington D.C.
For nearly 100 years, this library, after being funded by President John Adams, with $5,000, housed it’s collection of 3,000 volumes in the U.S.Capitol. In 1814, the British burned down our Capitol and the White House, and we lost our “national library”. One year later, in 1815 Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 books, for $23,950 to rebuild the library collection.
That collection of 6,487 books, was what started our current Library of Congress collection and was the exhibit that I had taken my 8th graders to see.
From that humble beginning of books (which were all owned by Thomas Jefferson, amazing!) the Library of Congress has grown to today’s collection, in which we have:
- 3 different buildings to house The Library of Congress
- off site storage in Maryland and Virginia
- 2.5 million categorized books
- 74.5 million manuscripts
- 5.6 million maps
- 8.2 million items of sheet music
- 4.2 audio materials
- 17.3 visual materilas
- 22,000 items received and processed on a daily basis
- in 460 different languages
- the worlds largest law library
- largest rare book collection
And I could go on. Nearly every thing that is copyrighted is submitted to the Library of Congress for consideration and filing. Not all are kept for posterity but as you can see millions of items are stored, retrieved, viewed, read, and studied in the Library of Congress. Anyone 16 years of age can apply for a Reader Identification Card, which is free and renewable every 2 years. With it, you can enjoy researching in anyone of the 21 reading rooms. Or, without one, as I do, using the online resources that are now available.
Should you find yourself in Washington DC, you undoubtely will visit the Capitol and across the street the Supreme Court. But don’t miss the Library of Congress, which is also just across the street from the Capitol and next to the Supreme Court.
Books are important to advancing societies and reading those books is a mark of that population’s education.
Today, with digital and audio services for books available, the closest most people get to actual books is in the Starbucks at Barns and Noble. But what if, the internet died? What if the powergrid collapsed? What if all you had to read was in your house? How would you learn, find out things, experience new places and explore old ones?
Books, my friend.
How’s your library? Where’s your library card? What’s the last book you read?
“We cannot live without books”, replied the teacher to the 8th grader.
Cheers to you,