I spent last Friday in Augusta at the Maine Humanities Summit sponsored by the University of Maine Humanities Initiative. I also participated on a panel of academic and public librarians to explain the role of libraries in the “public” humanities. The attending group was made up of the converted, those of us who see in others and experience in ourselves every day the “Power & Pleasure of Ideas” – to borrow a phrase from the Maine Humanities Council. We spoke of public libraries being a provider, presenter, collector, promoter and organizer of the humanities. So it was on fertile ground (and with gratitude) that our individual presentations were received. There was little if any surprise just appreciation.
I am always fascinated by the surprise that folks have upon rediscovery of the public library or coming up against the popular notion that the public library is not long for the world. Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times blog post “In Praise of Public Libraries (Personal and Trivial)” speaks to the simple delight in finding a space in the community that has some infrastructure, a culture of sharing and no expectation of you except civil behavior. Meanwhile, beyond offering a sweet spot in the daily grind, public libraries everywhere are gearing up their summer reading programs and reaching out to kids and families to do what we can to bring the beauty of the arts and the humanities (literature, history, art, music and much more) to the neighborhoods and towns across the country. Quiet magic – day in and day out. No chest pounding, no vapid self-promotion, just quiet and sustained effort to experience the “Power and Pleasure of Ideas”.