After his Woodinville homestead burned to the ground in 1892, Hans Pederson, my Danish immigrant father moved back to Seattle and spent the winter studying English and American history in the public library. He died in 1933, one month after my birth.
When I decided to write about him from my home in Maine, I called the the Seattle library to request information. They sent passages from city histories along with newspaper articles about Hans Pederson. I had to wait a year for other articles that had been archived in the state library in Olympia since the building had been damaged by the 2001 earthquake. Finally, for the sum of $30, they sent me priceless information I could not have found in any other way.
Today you can read a book in e-format on a Kindle, buy one for $.99, or listen to an audiobook on your smart phone. Many believe that the internet has now supplanted physical libraries.
No way. Grand or humble, stone, wood, or fiberboard, these vital spaces are the repository of our history and our culture.
In 2013, a Parade Magazine annual salary survey listed a princely $8,840 salary for Mary Stenger, the Lost Creek West Virginia Director of America’s best small library. In this world of increasing noise pollution, a library can sometimes seem as peaceful as a mountain stream.
E-books are convenient for some. Audiobooks help multitaskers. Some readers still prefer the feel of a physical book. I mark mine up so I can find my favorite passages. Libraries are important. I don’t believe anyone has hacked one yet.
Hitler built a bonfire and burned books in one of his pre-World war II acts as Fuhrer.
Seattle Central Library Photo by Bobak Ha Eri, June 4, 2009 courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Today’s Seattle public library is worth the walk. The building will take your breath away when you see it. But to reach it from the waterfront you have to climb four blocks up Seattle’s ever-present hills. The natives surely must develop strong legs.