In The Library: Where Books Live And You Think (Photos 1950-1961)

 

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 – EB White on the opening of a new library in Michigan, April 1971

 

circa 1960: A student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, with a pile of books. (Photo by Carsten/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1960: A student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, with a pile of books. (Photo by Carsten/Three Lions/Getty Images)

 

I love public libraries. Without them we are all poorer. Insufficient funding is leading to library closures. They must remain open. Indeed, we should have more libraries. They should be full of books, a myriad subjects packed on shelves in random order, all housed in a physical place you can get out of the house to visit. You might not feel a need to visit a library, but if you like reading anything from a tweet to a ‘classic’ – and I guess that you do – the link between reading and writing is most apparent in the home of books.

Anne Lamott puts it best in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

If you give freely, there will always be more. … It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person to whom they come for food and drink and company. This is what the writer has to offer.

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

 

circa 1950: A student at Sophia University, Tokyo, earning money to help pay for tuition fees by working in the college library. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1950: A student at Sophia University, Tokyo, earning money to help pay for tuition fees by working in the college library. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

14th March 1952: Pupils studying in the library at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire under a large portrait of a monk hanging on the wall. Ampleforth is a Roman Catholic public school run by Benedictine monks. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

14th March 1952: Pupils studying in the library at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire under a large portrait of a monk hanging on the wall. Ampleforth is a Roman Catholic public school run by Benedictine monks. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Sixth form pupils at work in the library at Christ's Hospital girls' school in Hertford, 3rd March 1953. (Photo by Monty Meth/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Sixth form pupils at work in the library at Christ’s Hospital girls’ school in Hertford, 3rd March 1953.
(Photo by Monty Meth/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A pupil at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, where blind children receive an appropriately geared education, writes a report in Braille by hand in the school's library. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A pupil at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, where blind children receive an appropriately geared education, writes a report in Braille by hand in the school’s library. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)

21st November 1952: A group of schoolchildren gather round a meccano model of Battersea Fair which took four Beckenham schoolboys 7 months to build. It is on show at the Beckenham Central Library. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

21st November 1952: A group of schoolchildren gather round a meccano model of Battersea Fair which took four Beckenham schoolboys 7 months to build. It is on show at the Beckenham Central Library. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student of Pennington School in America at work in the college library, surrounded by books on business. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student of Pennington School in America at work in the college library, surrounded by books on business. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student at the Wyoming Seminary, America leafs through a reference volume in the Bennet Library, part of the Sprague Memorial Building. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student at the Wyoming Seminary, America leafs through a reference volume in the Bennet Library, part of the Sprague Memorial Building. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A Chinese student doing voluntary work abroad arranges library cards for the Chinese collection in a filing system at the Research Institute of Oriental Culture in Tokyo, Japan. The Institute is a branch of the Catholic University of Peking (Beijing). (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A Chinese student doing voluntary work abroad arranges library cards for the Chinese collection in a filing system at the Research Institute of Oriental Culture in Tokyo, Japan. The Institute is a branch of the Catholic University of Peking (Beijing). (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: School pupils queuing outside a 'Bookmobile' mobile library in New Rochelle, New York. (Photo by Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: School pupils queuing outside a ‘Bookmobile’ mobile library in New Rochelle, New York. (Photo by Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student at the Wilbraham Academy in Massachusetts, takes time to study, in the well stocked college library. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student at the Wilbraham Academy in Massachusetts, takes time to study, in the well stocked college library. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student reading in a library. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A student reading in a library. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The reference section of the Kenneth Dike Library at the University College of Ibadan, later the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria, cira 1955. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The reference section of the Kenneth Dike Library at the University College of Ibadan, later the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria, cira 1955. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A sixth form pupil at work in a bay in the library at Roedean public school for girls in Sussex, August 1955. (Photo by L. Blandford/Harrison/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A sixth form pupil at work in a bay in the library at Roedean public school for girls in Sussex, August 1955.
(Photo by L. Blandford/Harrison/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

circa 1960: At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York's public library, the hands of a group of scholars piece together a ship's document about a cargo of slaves brought to the United States. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1960: At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York’s public library, the hands of a group of scholars piece together a ship’s document about a cargo of slaves brought to the United States. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Schoolchildren choosing books from a mobile library van. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Schoolchildren choosing books from a mobile library van. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The front desk at the Kenneth Dike Library of the University College of Ibadan, later the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria, cira 1955. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The front desk at the Kenneth Dike Library of the University College of Ibadan, later the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria, cira 1955. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the yard of a rural Trinidad School, young students browse through the books of a bookmobile belonging to the Government Central Library of Trinidad and Tobago, August 1956.

In the yard of a rural Trinidad School, young students browse through the books of a bookmobile belonging to the Government Central Library of Trinidad and Tobago, August 1956.