A new book just came out called The Library Book written by Susan Orlean. It is a book about the LAPL Central Library fire in April 1986 (when I was eight years old). This past week, LAPL celebrated the 25th Reopening of the Central Library which had reopened in October 1993, and Susan Orlean just started her book tour here. My mom and I were lucky enough to meet her in person, and hear her and another great author, Attica Locke, speak together about libraries.
In an ALOUD event in the Mark Taper Auditorium downtown at Central Library, sponsored by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, Susan Orlean and Attica Locke talked about how libraries set the foundation for human beings to thrive. Attica said that “libraries are the highest form of civilization.” Susan said, “we feel the essence of humanity in a book.” Both women talked about their own experiences growing up in libraries, and how librarians and other library staff like Althea Warren shape the collections.
To talk about public spaces in such intimate ways, made me love the library and LAPL that much more. Susan talked about how burning down libraries is a tool of war, and how it can erase people’s existence. She spoke of her own mother’s dementia, and how her mother losing her memories somewhat paralleled the burning of books in a library. Without a library, what are we? Susan of course, said it better than I am trying to explain here.
Libraries are much more than books, they are open, welcoming, public spaces that offer resources of all kinds, and offer person to person contact in the actual library buildings. If any city is an important city, it will have a great library. (Just think of the Library of Alexandria.) After attending the talk I listened to many recent interviews with Susan Orlean, including one where she said that libraries are “amazing models of what communities can be,” when she was in conversation with Patt Morrison.
In a time that feels so hateful, it is so refreshing to have a book that offers so much hope and love through visiting libraries. It is relieving to feel that by taking my daughter Riley to every branch of LAPL, I am helping my daughter to be a better community member and citizen of her beautiful city of Los Angeles. Maybe one day Riley, Susan and Attica will sit down and talk about libraries of the future and how we helped them survive, thrive and flourish.
Thank you LAPL! Thank you to all my recent favorite library people: Neale Stokes, Madeline Peña, Shirley Thao, Rebecca Shehee, John Szabo, Attica Locke and Susan Orlean!
Now, go visit your local public library. And get to reading your fellow human beings’ stories!