Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Let's Hear it for the Library!
April 17, 1998
Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message. Wrong. The
message is the message, and it has been since the beginning of time.
The urge to preserve knowledge is at least as old as the cave man with
his wall inscriptions. It's the , medium that has changed.
Next week is National Library Week , a good time to think about the
The logo of the Mesa County Public Library graphically shows that
change, the history of recorded ideas. It represents the progression
from writing on stone to writing in books to writing on a computer disk
-- and a straight line leading out to whatever the future holds.
The earliest known library was a collection of clay tablets in Babylonia
in the 21st century B. C. Since then records have been kept on
papyrus, on paper, and now on the computer and the World Wide Web.
Modern libraries do not contain clay tablets, which makes them a bit
more convenient to use. The first public library in the United States
was opened in Salisbury, Conn., in 1803 with a gift of 150 books from a
resident of the town. Locally, a subscription library was started in
Grand Junction in 1897 and was housed in a rented room on Main Street,
close to the Avalon Theater. It had 15 books and a treasury of $2.15.
Now the computer has added another medium for the message . Years ago
when computers were new and we still didn't have any understanding of
their potential, I remember another librarian telling me that the book
was doomed. She claimed that computers would completely replace books
in a few years. Actually, they complement each other.
Libraries have always been the great equalizer, providing information
resources to everyone -- to young and old, rich and poor, women and men
of all races and colors and idealogies. They have connected people and
places and ideas.
They are the storehouse of ideas, ideas of rebels and revolutionaries,
poets and crackpots, philosophers and extremists, statesmen and
schemers, theologians and atheists, paupers, presidents and kings.
There you find ideas that offend you, and ideas that echo your deepest
Today's libraries have a new tool -- one that can connect them almost
instantaneously to information resources around the world -- the
Libraries give us global reach on a scale never before possible. They
connect us to a world without borders.
The Internet is big and unorganized and hard to use, however. And a
lot of the most valuable research material is not free. Libraries
pay the subscription costs for many Internet resources, so that all
their patrons can have access to them. And equally important,
libraries provide the human touch in the form of librarians who are
expert at locating, organizing and evaluating information. Librarians
make the Web a safe, more user-friendly place for both children and
Terry Pickens, director of Mesa County Public Library District, gives
us a riddle. "What do you get when you cross the Internet and the
library? Answer: A powerful lot of organized information."
One of my favorite comic strips is "PC and Pixel". In a recent strip PC
says that the
problem with the Internet is that there is so much information and it is
compiled in an easy to use inexpensive manner. Pixel said that someone
has already done that - the public library.
The librarian who thought books were about to be extinct was wrong.
Books are here to stay. You can't curl up in bed with a good
computer. You can't read "Goodnight Moon" off a computer screen as you
rock your child to sleep. And one of the best and fastest reference
sources of all is my well-worn World Almanac, which I don't have to boot
The concept of the free public library today is a far cry from a
collection of clay tablets, but whether ancient or modern, libraries
protect and defend the principle of intellectual freedom, the freedom of
thought -- everybody's thought. They make information available to
every citizen. Democracy and libraries have a symbiotic relationship.
It would be impossible to have one without the other
Whether you want the latest romance novel, Mother Goose, or research
material on nuclear physics, head for your public library.