Library Legislative Day Comments by writer Howard Norman

VERMONT LIBRARIES Comments by Howard Norman for Legislation for Libraries DayJanuary 18, 2008

State funding for libraries is a vital consideration. As a writer whose books are in Vermont libraries, as someone who has done fundraising for libraries, as someone whose family uses Kellogg Hubbard and other Vermont libraries with great dedication, and I might add as someone who wrote three books in the Marshfield Vermont library, I feel that libraries are one of the least expendable of institutions. In a way libraries define culture, as they are archives of it. To imagine a cultural landscape without libraries is to imagine a body without a heart. Certainly

a body politic without a heart.

Two obvious and basic things here. First, that funding sponsors and therefore invigorates all sorts of wonderful programs for libraries, and I would suggest intensifies a very basic sense of inventiveness for librarians, a sense of what is possible. Of course I refer to book purchases, computers, outreach programs of all sorts, interactions between libraries and schools, book clubs, all aspects of literate culture, of the very erudition of individual libraries themselves. Lack of funds dumbs-down libraries, if you will. Secondly— and I have seen this again and again while serving on national library committees—: as funding is cut or overly restricted, a certain downward momentum or trajectory is put in motion, a kind of entropy, and often it comes to a point of no return, certainly a point of dire precariousness— and a library can simply disappear, or its hours, despite generous and unpaid volunteers, are so diminished as to not in the least properly serve a community. This strikes me as unconscionable.

I suggest that the public library is our country’s oldest unifying institution. How do I mean this? By definition each of our Vermont libraries is inclusive, no child or adult left behind or kept out no matter their income, religion, social status – a library imposes no bias, nor —one hopes—no censorship. In this way libraries provide a kind of ethical contract between citizens and their cultural history. In the last 30 years I have worked with a great number of foreign writers of children’s books, novels, history, poetry from countries in which writers are under siege, imprisoned, tortured, exiled—their works often erased from posterity. A number of these wonderful folks—from Kenya, South Africa, Indonesia, China, Brazil, and other countries—have visited Kellogg Hubbard library, libraries in Bennington, Burlington, Woodstock and so forth. I am always so proud and happy on such occasions. But what most takes my breath away—is the sheer sense of REPREIVE so forthrightly demonstrated by these writers. Reprieve from what?—Well, as the Chinese writer Li Do Chi said, “reprieve from not having libraries available to just walk into and sit and discover and enjoy books.” It sounds so straight-forward and simple—but it is a complicated rare privilege—one that the state of Vermont should help sustain. I never in my own life hope to experience – and I would despair of it for my daughter and her generation – a state in which NOT funding libraries may be accurately interpreted as a crude diminishment of –, even hostility toward – intellectual culture. It would indeed be a shameful thing, should a state government – voted in by citizens with an a binding respect for literacy and a deep level of engagement with the world of literature –would not, as an obvious priority, dignity our lives by providing funds to libraries. To continue to at least financially collaborate with our local communities to fund libraries.

On the most personal note–: if an average person like myself can invest even a modest, thought-out manageable percentage of his income and time to libraries in Vermont, might not our state government consider doing the same to enhance quotidian life for all of us?