In the early months of 1971, Marguerite Hart, the first children’s librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan, set out on a mission to attract as many young people as possible to this invaluable space. Her plan: to write to hundreds of distinguished figures from various walks of life and ask them to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of visiting such a building were explained. That 97of those people took the time to respond by post is a testament to Hart’s skills of persuasion, absolutely, but it’s also a welcome reminder that people are, on the whole, decent.
I’m only reprinting one of the replies here—mainly because I love an anniversary but also because it’s quite perfect and deserves space. It came from the typewriter of E. B. White, and it was written on this day of that year.
April 14, 1971
Dear Children of Troy:
Your librarian has asked me to write, telling you what a library can mean to you.
A library is many things. It's a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It's a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books---the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together---just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people---people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.
E. B. White
A great letter from the great E.B. White. He gets it absolutely right here - a library is all that and more, and it is for life. Thanks for this. Also, thanks for that photo of my all-time favorite library at Grand Army Plaza where my dad took me sixty years ago.
“Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had.” This is a great quote.