Posted on March 28, 2014
By Paul J. Schafer
The Pew Research Center reported that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year: not opening a paperback, firing up an E-Reader, or even push the play button for an audiobook while in the car. Are books and libraries becoming obsolete?
Growing up near Pittsburgh, I remember weekly trips to the Oakmont Public Library. The façade of that library was impressive, resembling a small castle with its manicured lawn, its steep entrance staircase, and its massive oak doors. To a young boy, the library seemed like a giant maze with rows and rows of books, long tables with green-shaded bolted lamps, and mysterious cubicles scattered throughout the library. There were also glass cases filled with historical objects, wildlife scenes, and science displays. These items, along with the large posters depicting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows, the fish tanks, and the terrariums created a magical experience.
Wondering what experiences others have had with libraries led me to place a blurb in The Book Review section of The New York Times asking readers to share their early recollections of libraries. People from around the country and a few from other countries sent me more than 200 letters. Many of the letters are emotional, tender and poignant.
The letters illustrate how libraries and librarians have influenced the lives of the writers. Although each letter is unique, a common theme is libraries acting as a sanctuary, a gateway, and a place for transition. Libraries provided the writers with a warm, welcoming place; a kindly guide to the future; and a safe passage to a positive sense of self. Though the letters contain all sorts of reflections, ranging from loving memories to intimidating images, three topics are prominent: (1) the importance of books, (2) the warmth and kindness of librarians, and (3) the memorable impressions of the physical appearances of libraries. Several writers conflate all three topics. The writers stress the importance of books in their lives, the compassion and helpfulness of the librarians, and the contrast between the imposing, cold, and sometimes intimidating façades of the libraries with the warm, inviting spaces inside.
The role that books played in the lives of many letter writers is illustrated by the president of a company who writes, “There is no doubt in my mind that my romance with the children’s library helped to develop my imagination and creativity, as well as my sense of optimism.” Similarly, after confessing to stealing a library book 60 years ago, a child psychoanalyst says that he often arrived at the library before the librarian and states that books “were my first recognition of any world outside of my own immediate one.”
Another prevalent theme in the letters is the role of librarians. A great grandmother writes, “Although I am Jewish, one of my warmest memories, both figuratively and literally was sitting around the fireplace and being read to around Christmas time at the Brooklyn Public Library.” An 82 year old woman comments about her librarian, “Her kindness and care were palpable. Coming from a household where my mother preferred my father’s belt to a gentle word, the librarian not only gave me a wonderful introduction to the library, but she represented to me that the world of books creates kind people; people who ask and discuss before they hit; people who will look you in the eye before they will strike to keep you low.”
The physical aspects of libraries are also mentioned by many writers. A writer and an editor remembers the time at the Brownsville Children’s Library when she could finally enter the adult section, “Getting the card that let you go upstairs and borrow books from that collection was as significant a rite of passage for us as any formal ceremony.” A Swedish immigrant tells of “a glass display case containing beautifully designed mythical landscapes with characters like mice and rabbits. I clearly recall a sensation of magic descending upon me.” Years later she returns to the library to discover, “the glass cases appeared small and shabby. I wondered what there had been to marvel at. The ‘mystery room’ seemed crowded and irritatingly dark, but many years later, as an adult, the magic is still there in my memory, to conjure up at will. Long live the creators of children’s libraries and the magic they instill in our hearts.”
Let’s hope that Universities in Florida will always have libraries with books to help children discover dinosaurs, terrariums and exhibits to fire their imaginations, and compassionate librarians to inspire them.
Paul J. Schafer
The views and opinions expressed in this document are solely those of the contributing author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Keiser University and/or the Keiser University student body and staff.
Mrs. Percy and Mr. Williams believed in me. They were more than instructors, they tried to get to know you as a person and tried to understand your goals so they could push you towards them. And Mrs. Crawford from student services helped me find a job before I even graduated. She was dedicated to my overall success.
Going to Keiser University was one of the greatest experiences in my life. All of my deans, professors, and staff made me feel that I was a part of something very special, and I am. I would recommend for anyone to get their education at Keiser University.
The two instructors that have impacted my life are Mr. Williams and Mrs. Percy. Both of them believed in my ability to become a great graphic designer, regardless of how I felt about my skills. I appreciate their motivation to get me to where I am today.
Beyond the curriculum of the courses, the lessons the instructors have taught me have paid dividends in my real work experiences. How to respond to criticisms, project and time management, interview skills, the list goes on and on. At the end of the day, they not only showed me how to design, but they taught me how to be a professional.
If not for my education at Keiser I probably would not be where I am today, in both life and career. It is because of going to Keiser and the instructors I had that I joined a club started by Mr. Williams, The Lakeland Shooters Photography Group, which allowed me to venture into an amazing and very creative field that I use to enhance all aspects of my life.
The Design program at Keiser University was filled with real world learning and hands on instruction… Based on the portfolio I created while a student at Keiser University, I landed a job in Graphic Design for a major online retailer immediately after graduation.
The year and a half I spent in the program better prepared me for attaining a job in the field…As a hands-on learner, the project-centered teaching was perfect for me.
Keiser University has given me the opportunity to embrace a career change… It has opened the door for a timely graduation and quick return to the work force…
Without the education I received at Keiser University, I would not be where I am today!
I not only received an excellent education but also encouragement and training that built my self-confidence every day.
I realize the amount of knowledge I gained and feel that the educational experiences have developed me in to a person who can move higher up the career ladder.
Keiser University’s MBA program has renewed my mind, changed the way I think, and given me a new sense of purpose. The professors transformed my attitude and behavior, gave me the self-confidence I was lacking, and restored my energy.
It has been great attending and graduating from Keiser University. Because of the small class sizes, I was able to build good relationships with classmates and professors. The PA professors care very much about the progress and success of the students and have been great advisors every step of the way through the program.
Attending Keiser University and getting my degree was the best decision I have ever made. The small class sizes and personalized attention helped me get my degree quickly. The hands-on experience and the education landed me a job at a neighboring law firm.
I chose Keiser because it had everything—small classes, caring professors, hands-on learning, and counselors that are really there for you. I feel like I’m part of a family here, not just a number.
After being denied for several promotions at my current employer, I decided that I needed to further my education. Since graduating from Keiser with my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, I have been promoted and I am able to obtain positions that weren’t available to me before.
Keiser helped change my life by getting my education at the right school! I had been going to another school before, I dropped out because I felt that I was not getting enough information. When I found out about Keiser, I was pleased because the instructors were great.
My decision to attend Keiser University has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I chose to enroll in the Information Technology program… The one-class-a-month pace helped incredibly with my self-discipline.
The BA for Business Administration at Keiser has to be one of the best in the nation. Keiser takes the basics that are taught at the Associates level and uses them to strengthen your skills and knowledge.
I found that Keiser University’s Nuclear Medicine program of advanced studies and small class size was a perfect fit. I never came across a faculty member who wasn’t truly interested.