Are libraries obsolete? An author answers

By: Bruce Robinson Special to The News Messenger
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Editor’s note: Author and Lincoln resident Bruce Robinson tells us why he is passionate about libraries and helping the Friends of the Lincoln Library with its fundraising. The Friends launches its fundraiser Oct. 4 with a donations envelope tucked into this newspaper’s ‘Inside Lincoln’ section. Look for it. Robinson taught American literature and history at secondary schools and colleges and is president of the Sun City Lincoln Hills Writers Group. He is the author of “Legends of the Strait,” available in the Lincoln Public Library at Twelve Bridges. Are libraries obsolete? An author answers By Bruce Robinson Special to The News Messenger Are public libraries going the way of Post Offices? I certainly hope not because there are still many parts of the United States where people live hundreds of miles away from the nearest human settlement. Sadly, the key decision-makers on such matters all live in high-density population areas such as Sacramento, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C. In these big cities, just about everybody who’s anybody is connected online all the time. People like that think they don’t need books. If these decision-makers have their way, all books will be e-cartoons and all conversation will be in “twitters.” That bothers me because I have always believed books are the best preservers of the human story and a free library full of books is the ultimate proof of a great civilization. Though it may not have been the first physical repository of written works, the Great Library of Alexandria (founded in ancient Greece around 300 B.C.) is certainly one of the most celebrated. It was here where the philosopher Aristotle presided over the largest collection of written works in the then known Western World, estimated at its peak to have included more than 750,000 scrolls. When Julius Caesar conquered Alexandria in 48 B.C., he immediately saw the value of the Alexandria Library and wanted to create a public library of his own in Rome. Unfortunately, Caesar was assassinated before he had a chance to do that. Nevertheless, it is in Rome today where the Vatican Library houses the largest and oldest collection of ancient scrolls and books, most written by monastic scribes in Greek or Latin. One of the high points in my career occurred in 1958 when the University of Pennsylvania awarded me a library service fellowship. This fellowship made it possible for me to work in the Rare Books Department as a research assistant. Under the supervision of curator Neda M. Westlake, I was responsible for collating the letters and draft manuscripts in the Theodore Dreiser Collection. It may be difficult for some to understand but the experience of being this close to the personal correspondence and creative drafts of a great American writer was like eavesdropping on a conversation among literary giants. Why do libraries like those in Alexandria and Rome matter? After all, very few Americans today read books written in Greek or Latin. True enough but very few Americans read books written in English by authors such as Sir Francis Bacon or Samuel Johnson either. That’s because the English Johnson and Bacon wrote is different from the English we use today. It’s full of long sentences and big words derived from Greek and Latin. Nevertheless, Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote the first English dictionary and Sir Francis Bacon was one of the first and is still considered one of the best scientific writers in English. In fact, he is said to be the creator of empirical reasoning, or the scientific method used today in laboratories and scientific studies world-wide. In short, libraries may be the most important invention of all time — if only so because they preserve, protect and nurture the life of the mind. Frankly, it appalls me that Lincoln has only one library and that it is open only four days each week and a few hours each day. How sad! For the Twelve Bridges Library is one of the best-equipped public libraries I’ve ever seen. It’s like having a luxury spaceship that can go back to the future or beyond the next galaxy in our own back yard. All we need to do is step on board! How you can help Friends of the Library Want to help buy new library books and support popular library programs? On Oct. 4, look for ‘The Envelope, Please’—the friends of the Lincoln Library’s donations envelope—in The Lincoln News Messenger’s Inside Lincoln section. Or donate any time via Paypal on our website, Donations large and small will help us make a difference. On the calendar Friends Meeting: 2 p.m. Sept. 11: homework room, Lincoln Public Library at Twelve Bridges. Free Family Movie Night: Sept. 15; “Adventures of Tin Tin.” Doors open 5:30 p.m. at Twelve Bridges Library. This column is part of a Friends of the Lincoln Library series. Have a question? Contact the Friends at 434-2404, at or e-mail Bruce Robinson is a Friends of the Lincoln Library member.