At a time when there is much lament about social and political divisions in America, consider how books and libraries give us the opportunity to connect with others and be more in touch with diversity. cultures and opinions in our country and in the world. A good friend and I get together for coffee and a chat every month or so. We have contrasting political opinions, but we never discuss politics. Politics is boring. Often, we’ll wonder about the books we’ve read recently, giving us an endless supply of topics to talk about. It’s funny how fictional literature can shed light on truths about ourselves and others that we don’t usually recognize.
Books can connect two friends in Summit County or provide a bridge between people on opposite sides of the planet. The Harry Potter series has been translated into over 80 languages. A kid from Colorado and a kid from China may have very different worldviews, but they can be united in their dreams of becoming skilled wizards and quidditch champions.
From 2000 to 2009, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was the most banned book in America from school and public libraries due to outcry from busy citizens. We should all be happy when kids get excited about reading instead of just playing video games, so it’s disconcerting when parents find the wrong reason to get excited about a book that lets their kids discover the magic of our world. stupid muggles! If you care about free speech, you should oppose any attempt to censor serious (or not-so-serious) literature. As librarian Jo Godwin said, “A truly great library contains something that offends everyone.”
To further my education and opportunities in America, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of 1,689 libraries in the United States between 1883 and 1927. The small Midwestern town where I grew up had a Carnegie library that was built in 1912. I have fond memories of crawling the wooden shelves for an adventure novel while a huge clock was beating loudly on the wall. The library was the only public building in town where I could hang out for a few hours after school to wait for a ride home.
Summit County is fortunate to have three library branches to provide a welcoming space for everyone. It is reassuring to know that we each have these community centers where we can relax, connect to WiFi and use the toilet without having to buy a latte. Many of us take our computers, our internet access, and our financial ability to order books on a whim for granted. Our Summit Libraries are great societal equalizers that give everyone the ability to connect with the world and have access to the literature of their choice.
Eric Klinenberg’s 2018 book Palaces for the People makes a strong case for the importance of social infrastructure in communities. Shared spaces such as libraries, churches, parks, daycares, and bike paths can be essential in bridging divides in society and safeguarding democracy. A lifeblood of Summit County has been the shared vision of citizens and public officials to recognize the importance of investing for the long-term benefit of the public so that we all have good access to recreation, education and health.
Summit County is set to expand the North Branch Library in Silverthorne, adding seating, study rooms and space for children’s reading programs and community events. This extra capacity is not for books, but rather for people to come together to have fun, learn and be entertained. If you want to make some new friends, consider attending the library’s Trivia night or joining their True Crime Book Club. Give your child an exciting and educational outing to one of the library’s reading events.
In order to reduce public expenditure for the expansion of the North Branch Library, a significant portion of the project is to be funded by private donations. If you are inspired by the generous spirit of Andrew Carnegie, consider investing in this valuable addition to our county’s social infrastructure. Click on SummitLibraryExpansion.com for more information.
At a time when headlines seem like a blur of bad news, remember that much of the anxiety we each feel is self-inflicted. We nervously check social media or our email too often, and religiously listen to fear-driven cable news. A daily hour of relaxation with a book can be the antidote we need to be calmer, develop a better understanding of society and feel a closer connection with those who are not like us. The empathy we learn to have for Harry Potter and other book characters will help us empathize more with our fellow Americans, and reader by reader we can gradually bridge the divisions in society.
Paul Olson’s column “A Friendly Conservative” is published biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Olson has lived in Breckenridge since 1995. Semi-retired, he works at REI in Dillon and enjoys snowboarding, Nordic skiing and hiking. Contact him at [email protected]