A good library is a hallmark of community

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about libraries. I started out trying to find a particular book to share with my rabbi: We are going to begin Daf Yomi, reading a page a day of Talmud for the seven or so years it will take to complete, and the book I was looking for was written by an Israeli woman who did just that — on her own. But I couldn’t find it.
Not really a surprise. I’ve tried my best to organize my library, which is pretty extensive for one person, but many new volumes come in, few go out, and some get lost in the process. While I was searching, the mail brought my latest copy of The Rotarian, with a compelling story called “More Than a Library.”
Rotary, originally a businessmen’s organization, has been dear to my heart, and inspired my efforts, ever since women were admitted to membership. I especially like its emphasis — and the contributions all members make to it — because there are clubs throughout the world filling important world needs, like eliminating polio and providing clean water to dry outposts of civilization, items high on the current agenda. But I didn’t know how high on the agenda libraries are until I read the story that began: “After the genocide of 1994, Rotarians led a successful campaign to build Rwanda’s first public library. A bastion against ignorance and tyranny, it has become a gathering place where a culture of reading, the arts, and democracy thrives.”
My father saw to it that I was a library lover early in my life. I read in kindergarten, skipped first grade because of that, but was denied access to our school library, which was granted only to fourth graders and above. So he began picking me up after school every Tuesday and taking me to Pittsburgh’s main library: the imposing old building that was my city’s own Andrew Carnegie’s first contribution to literacy for all. I treasured those afternoons, and my library card. In all the years that followed, the library only let me down once: I was in high school working on a paper about Liege, Belgium — we had been assigned to find a place we’d never heard of before and write about it — and I looked no further when I heard one of my uncles talk about being stationed there as a World War II soldier. But the sources I wanted were only available in a special collections area reserved for graduate students. I did find enough elsewhere to write a good paper, but the first thing I did after beginning graduate school was to get those previously forbidden materials for myself, to find out what I’d missed. (Cold fact: not much!)
True confession: I’m not a library user! I prefer to buy my books so that I can dog-ear pages, underline whatever I like, and make notes inside the covers. This accounts for my overlarge collection, which is destined for a happy home when — if my future plans materialize as I hope — I’ll be moving into the new Legacy at Midtown now under construction, and all the books will move with me into its library!
But somehow, I’ve never been able to live in a neighborhood without a library. I occasionally stop sometimes to visit the small one near my home, just making sure it’s still there. And I’m overjoyed that ground has recently been broken even closer to where I live for a brand-new, much larger one.
Today, I’m especially saluting the Dallas JCC’s Tycher Library, which soldiers on while sharing its space with all who were tornado-dislocated from the nearby Federation building and are now conducting business from there. So please be sure to visit Tycher’s “pop-up” library — a table in the Center’s lobby with a librarian ready to serve you. Every community deserves a good library, every place from Rwanda to the one we have right here in Jewish Dallas! (P.S.: Rabbi — I’m still looking…)

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