Commentary: In praise of libraries large and small

By Linda Stamato

It’s been more than a month since the nation celebrated National Library Week. I don’t recall seeing a lot about the importance of that week, or about what it means to have libraries, particularly free and public libraries, in America.

There was more space devoted to the subject of book ban, and who can read what, when and where, while giving too many librarians a hard time! We’ve achieved a low mark for our increasingly divisive, politicized society.

So, I’m going to reach for the high ground and give a shout-out to libraries, starting with the crown jewel, the nation’s library, the Library of Congress.

The Founding Fathers, about whom we’ve been hearing a lot these days–much of which would surprise them, no doubt–clearly understood that ignorance was the enemy of democracy.

Library of Congress

Before the newly-formed American government moved to the capital in Washington, a ship left London carrying 740 books to start the collection for what was to be the national library.

Linda Stamato

It is valuable to note, though, that the Founding Fathers did have some books, about 243, it is reported, from which they drew the facts, figures and history to guide their own consequential work. Do not doubt many of these texts, eventually, wound up in the National Library.

If they did, they are now a part of a collection that constitutes the world’s largest; in the year 2000, at its 200th birthday, the library held 119 million items, including 22 million books on 532 thousands of shelves. And, on average, it reported that 22,000 items arrived every day.

The Library of Congress is a treasure we should protect, preserve, and enhance. It contributes to the soul of our nation.


From a tribute to the largest, on to the smallest: The roving libraries, the books-on-wheels libraries, the bookmobiles, because “when there is no library around, the books could come to you.”

This quote comes from a New York Times Book Review that carried a lovely short essay, Books on Wheels. It tells the story with a number of photographs and illustrations, and makes the case for the difference these traveling libraries made in the lives of those who were its beneficiaries.

To Margaret Atwoodfor example, the bookmobile “was the whole world parked on my gravel road.”

James Lee Burke recalled that “the arrival of the bookmobile on our dead-end street sent kids running down to the cul-de-sac to be the first in line for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.”

Joe Queenan had a similar experience: “I lived in a neighborhood with no library. Luckily, there was a bookmobile that came around every week. Each Tuesday night I would borrow as many books as permitted, devour them and come back next week for more.”

It’s hardly surprising, to me, that these readers became writers.

During the dedication of a two-ton-canary yellow bookmobile in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the largest of New York City, John Lindsayurged the crowd to “make use of the words that are in these books—that is the road to follow.”

No doubt, many did follow a road found in books. And, still, many more will.

Morristown and Morris Township Library Bookmobile

The words spoken in New York City sound just right here in Morristown.

Our local library, the Morristown and Morris Township Public Library, you have a fine bookmobile. It visits day care centers, pre-schools and after-school programs. leila uhwho runs the bookmobile program, makes her visits between 9 and 5, from Monday through Thursday.

OVERDUE BOOKS?  The Morristown & Township Library Bookmobile at the Morris County St. Patrick's Parade, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
OVERDUE BOOKS? The Morristown & Township Library Bookmobile at the Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Those include visits Unity Charter School in Morris Township–it does not have its own library–and the Neighborhood House in Morristown, as well as two locations for Cradles to Crayonsand the Morris School District after-school program.

Leila is bilingual (Spanish-English) and has worked with children at schools in the MSD who are also bilingual (or know Spanish only). In fact, she added a stop at the kids’ request to help the growing interest among Latino children who wanted books!

According to Chad Leinaweaverthe library director, the library has about 2,500 volumes in both English and Spanish, including board books, easy readers, picture books and chapter books.

During the summer, the bookmobile visits Morristown and Township camp programs at area parks, summer school programs and both of the community’s pools (in addition to some day care centers that continue into the summer). Because adults and young adults are also at the pools and camps, Leila carries a few titles for those age groups as well.

An extension of the bookmobile’s work has Leila stocking several “little free libraries” that a group of Girl Scouts built for the library during the pandemic at Deidre’s House in Morristown and at Streeter Pool and Ginty Field in Morris Township.

The Library hopes to work with another scout troop in the coming months to add a few more of these little free libraries in Township parks.

And so our local traveling library, our bookmobile, carries on a tradition: Bringing books to brighten lives, lift spirits, widen horizons, prompt dreams, help imagine futures, offer hope and comfort, motivate, astound, inform, relay history, promote civility , provide instruction, answer questions and raise others, and, of course, entertain. And, as at the founding of our nation, free access to books is essential in a thriving democracy.

With the nation’s largest library, the Library of Congress, and libraries across the nation, the Morristown and Morris Township Library provides access to books for all who seek them, and, with its bookmobile, wherever they may be.

Celebrating and generating support for libraries needs more than one week a year.

Linda Stamato is a trustee of the Morristown and Morris Township Library Foundation, and a commissioner on the Morristown Parking Authority. She is also Co-Director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and a faculty fellow at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

Opinions expressed in comments are the authors’, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button