The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Oklahoma Mailbag, and a Few Words in Support of Library Bond Issues Everywhere

March 27, 2008
Norman, OK

Oklahoma librarian Susan Gregory writes,

The Big Read continues with enthusiasm in Norman. We held a wonderful program in a former Roman Catholic church, now home to a brilliant photographer and his wife who works for the OKC Animal shelter, on the edge of the campus. Robert Ruiz, whom you met, brought his mariachi band and they sang portions of the mass in Spanish after the group of about fifty heard presentations from an art history professor and a scholar from the English department. Candles illuminated the icons and crucifixes on the walls while the dogs howled and three cats prowled. I think that [Bless Me, Ultima author] Señor [Rudolfo] Anaya -- and St. Francis -- would be pleased. Next week, we're hosting a program in Norman's new organic grocery downtown. We've actually found a curandera in OKC and a Norman police officer whose grandmother was a curandera, so the evening should be fascinating, if not mystical.

We're beginning a serious fight down here to get people to vote for a new library on May 13th. I know why reading is the core of my life. The challenge will be to find adequate words to help those who don't -- or won't -- read understand the power that a strong public library gives to a community. If you have any thoughts to share on the subject that I could purloin for presentations, please do...

Susan is already doing one of the smartest things a library can do to pass a ballot initiative, which is to run a Big Read during the campaign. My Hammett-reading Big Read friends in Spokane, whom I shamefully haven?t blogged about quite yet, are doing the same thing. The Big Read sure worked in Peoria, Illinois, where library funding had to win the support of a two-thirds supermajority, and managed it with percentage points to spare. Interestingly, there are two schools of thought about library bond campaigns. One is to synchronize them with major elections, so that every last library supporter will already be voting. The other is to put a bond issue on the ballot all by itself in a special election, so that only a few diehard library supporters can put it over the top.

Big Read participants listened spellbound to Mariachi Orgullos sing portions of the Mass in Spanish during a celebration of the book, Bless Me, Ultima, at The Chouse, formerly St. Thomas More Catholic Church, on March 14th. Photo by David Kipen.

Me, I can scarcely understand why anybody in their right minds wouldn?t support library funding in May or November. Here?s what I?d say to anyone on the fence in Norman, Spokane, or anywhere else:

Name me a great man or woman who never owned a public library card. I defy you. On the off chance they don?t use the card much anymore, it?s because they?ve parlayed early library use into the kind of success that buys you any book you need, or earns you access to a great university library.
The only reason I can think of not to support a library bond issue is if you?ve been so burned by the dumb things government sometimes does that you don?t trust it anymore to do a smart one. I can understand that. I can understand it better than a G-man like me ought to admit. But I promise you this: If you think your government wastes your money now, just wait till your local library cuts its hours, or closes completely. Just wait till people without library cards start casting the deciding vote -- the few of them who bother to vote at all -- to elect your leaders. Then you?ll see what governmental incompetence really looks like.

But if I can't convince you to support your library, just make me this one promise in return. After the library bond passes without you, do me a favor and pay a visit to your new library. Look around you. See a librarian, who could be making triple the salary in a law firm across town, helping somebody who just lost a job find work. See a librarian connecting patrons with novels that somehow make them feel just a little less alone. See a librarian reading to kids whose parents don't make the time to. See all this -- and then see if you don't, like me, find yourself supporting library funding every chance you get."

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Does Auburn, Ind., have the most breathtaking small-town public library in America? Photo by David Kipen.

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