"A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life." -- Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century abolitionist, social reformer, and clergyman.
It is difficult to imagine a more exalted institution in an enlightened democracy than a public library.
In fact, everything you need to know about the American system's roots is this: The first lending library was established by none other than Benjamin Franklin in 1731.
COURTESY OF THE TOLEDO-LUCAS COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY Enlarge
They are repositories of information and fountains of entertainment, places to get lost in thought and discover new ideas. They are great equalizers, where low income men, women, and children can navigate the Internet for free and where folks living in economic deprivation have the same access to big thoughts as an Ivy League graduate.
And as Mr. Beecher said: They are necessary.
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library celebrates its 175th birthday this year in a good place. Its lending collection is a muscular 2.4 million books, compact discs, DVDs, and more. There are 325,022 library card holders in the county and last year 6.9 million items were borrowed.
In an era when supposedly people don't read anymore, the library belies the notion that somehow our culture is less intelligent and dumbed down by technology.
To test this theory, visit a library branch virtually any time of the day or on the weekend. You will find a bustling place frequented by people of all ages and staffed by knowledgeable folks who never make you feel embarrassed be cause you can't get your card to swipe through the automated check-out device properly.
This Blade special section on the library's big anniversary takes you inside the rows and rows of books, explores The Blade Rare Book Room, and shows you how the building on Michigan Avenue grew to 271,000 square feet. It features a profile on longtime director Clyde Scoles and includes renowned historian and author David McCullough's comments on libraries.