14 June 2009

Library Science

When I was in junior high school, my class took a field trip to the library at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In a display case, they had a letter from Ray Bradbury. I can't remember what the letter was about, but to me, the cool thing was that it was on his personal letterhead that listed his home address.

I was too nervous to be seen writing down the address, but I memorized it. I could still recite it today if I wanted, so well did I memorize, but to guard the great Mr. B's privacy, I will refrain.

I wrote him a letter, no doubt something juvenile about how great he was. And about a month later, I got a letter back.

"Thanks!" was all it said, with a big loopy signature.

It made my day. Actually, it made my year. The Great Ray Bradbury, a famous author, had written to me. Me. Me!

Fast-forward 30 years. I covered Mr. Bradbury's appearance as a benefit for a Friends of the Library group. It turns out that he has lost most of his hearing, so we did not get to chat, but that is probably a good thing. I was so choked up that I would have opened my mouth and started bawling like a baby - which is never good for your appearance of journalistic objectivity.

I found out he does library benefits all the time, and that Fahrenheit 451 is not, in his mind, about censorship as much as it is about the value of libraries.

He will appear at our local branch library next week, raising money to keep the branch open for the rest of the year. The annual branch budget is $268,000, a figure I was stunned to hear.

Thousands of people visit that branch. Tens of thousands of materials are circulated. And all on a budget of under $300k.

I recently re-read Fahrenheit 451 and was knocked back by its prescience. The vapid Mildred with her earbuds always in, blocking out the world...the stupid TV shows that wreck people's ability to think...it's all a little too true for comfort.

I spent literally hundreds of hours at that library branch as a teen. I got a bonus at work the other day and immediately tithed to the library - wrote them a check for 10% of the bonus - and I donate all my used books for their book sales.

It may take Ray Bradbury, and it may take a village, but I sure hope we can manage to raise the paltry sum to keep our library open.


Isabella Golightly said...

Ray Bradbury was & is one of my heroes - his work helped make into the avid sci-fi fan that I am, and I am sooooooooooooooooo jealous that you actually got to meet him! And yes, they do miracles at the public libraries of the world - have you ever seen that poster "some day our public libraries will have all the funds they want & the air force will have to hold a cake stall to buy a new bomber?". I love that.

Anonymous said...

The state of the public library is truly sad. (But, wow, Ray Bradbury - still out there doing this stuff - love his writing.)

Adrienne said...

At the very least we could use them as bricks to build adequate bus shelters.

Deodand said...

I'm chuckling at the thought of you doing that face-fanning drama-queen thing in front of Ray Bradbury!

J said...

Good luck...I so hope you are able to keep the library going.

I've always loved Bradbury, 451 and the Martian Chronicles and Illustrated Man, but my all time favorite is and always will be Something Wicked This Way Comes. A dear friend of mine recently wrote me and said she had just re-read 451 for the first time in 30 years and was deeply horrified by the misogynistic tone of it, which she didn't remember from when she read it as a kid. I'm afraid to re-read it now.

whall said...

I hope it all works out - what a great story!

Dingo said...

Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite novels. I practically lived in libraries as a kid and the thought of burning books and libraries horrified me.

super des said...

Ray is definitely one of my favorite living authors. And I too lived in libraries as a kid. The UCDavis library is pretty cool, though now someday maybe I'll have to see the UCSB.

LittlePea said...

Oh yes! You are so right on. I love the library. Fortunately my library gets a lot of private donations. ALthough I do make a monthly donation via my late fees :O) and I shop in their used book store.

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