In memory of a paradise on wheels

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges

This isn’t my usual kind of update. It’s not about me, or my work, or even about publishing. It’s about the loss of a very good friend: the Douglas County library system.

As it says in my biography, I grew up in a remote little town in SW Oregon. We didn’t didn’t have our own library (or even a grocery store, for that matter), but every two weeks a pair of librarians drove into town on the bookmobile. The bookmobile connected half a dozen tiny towns in Douglas County, sharing books from the full-sized libraries in bigger towns.

On bookmobile day, the truck parked outside the school, and almost everyone in town came to visit. It was a great place to hang out and chat with our neighbors. School always let us out to spend as much time as we liked checking out books, and I often checked out a stack over three feet high. In fact, during summer vacation, I would sometimes check out more than a hundred books at a time. My tiny school had limited resources, but the bookmobile opened the doors of the world to me.  Through it, I learned how to learn on my own, and I learned to love the written word with all my heart. I do not exaggerate when I say that the biggest influence on the course of my life–and of course on my writing–was the bookmobile and its terrific librarians.

But my relationship with the Douglas County library system didn’t end there. My first quasi-work experience was volunteering at the Reedsport Public Library, cleaning and shelving books and organizing donations. And years later, as a single mom on food stamps, that library was once again my lifeline to the world. My daughter became a book lover as I read her dozens of books a week and took her to storytime.

Today I learned that in 2017, the Douglas County board of commissioners will vote whether or not to dissolve the library system. The bookmobile is long-gone, a legacy of the county’s deep losses after the collapse of the timber industry. Hours at all branches have been slashed and slashed. This year, citizens attempted to save the library with a desperate bond measure–which failed.

I feel as if a dear friend has been put on hospice care. I mourn not just the wonder and joy that the library brought to my life, but to an institution that brought whole communities together and opened the doors for generations of Oregonians. A community with no library is untethered from the wisdom of humanity and the treasure-house of civilization.