I received an email from my Mother recently and I was reminded just how important libraries are. The gist of the email from Mom was that she wanted to know from myself and my two siblings, now all very much adults, living in the 21st century and all over the world, if she and Dad could donate our well used Encyclopaedia Britannica’s to a farm school a friend of theirs had established in a rural farming area in Mpumalanga in South Africa. This friend had started the school some years ago without any government or provincial funding but with sheer determination and a belief that it was the right thing to do. The nearest school was some many kilometres away, the roads were diabolical and most of the families had no form of transport to get their children to the school anyway. So, in the part of one of their seldom used barns, the school was started. It has, with many ups & downs and numerous bumps in the roads, literally and figuratively, grown and their latest joy is that one of their first pupils has returned to teach at the school having just finished her B.Ed. degree. She chose to come back and to give back to her community and the school who helped her realise her dreams.
When my Mom asked the current head teacher how were they able to grow as they have, she said from the kindness of many people who gave of their time and money but, more importantly, it was those who donated books. It wasn’t enough to teach the children to read and write but you had to instil in them a desire and love for the written word. It was important that they taught the students that reading was the door that opened onto and into the big world beyond that little valley but, if there are no books, other than their class readers, where do they make that discovery? A library was needed. An appeal was sent out and so the library started. At first the children were slightly nonplussed by the vast array of choice and then by the fact that they could take books home to read to themselves, and read to their family. The library became the centre of the school. The place the children went to be with the others, to find out more, to see the world through the pictures in the magazines and the picture books. It was what a library is meant to be, a place to meet others and explore one’s mind, their surroundings and the world beyond.
As I re-read those words I realised just how right she was and why it is still so very important that we keep our libraries and book stores open. It is the camaraderie of going into a place where other likeminded people are. To check out what is on offer in the community. To interact, face to face with others, sharing the joys of one author or being encouraged to try the works of another. How we in Canada take this privilege for granted. How we in Canada are allowing this to slowly be eroded with libraries and bookstores closing or being centralised making getting to them as difficult as those dusty bumpy roads in Mpumalanga. Let us as adults continue to spread the love and joy of reading far and wide by reading to our children and letting them read to us because, by doing this, we will all continue to learn and grow.