On libraries and generosity

Lyn Craig and Rich at the Josephy Library shelves
On Friday I picked up two boxes from the Post Office for the Josephy Library—bookends sent me by a Portland law firm library that is remodeling and no longer needs them. The bookends were advertised on a listserv sponsored by the Oregon State Library—I now get regular notices of meetings, grants, and questions and answers about libraries and librarianship.  And occasionally something like this—notice of 70 metal bookends (worth $300-$400) for donation to another library in need. When I replied, librarian Julie said she’d pack them up and send immediately—and consider the shipping costs a donation.
As I have said before, this learning to be a librarian is an engaging business, with lessons in history, the social sciences, research practices, and new technologies coming at me daily.  I’d like to add another lesson—or theory: libraries, librarians, library patrons, and even the taxpayers who support libraries are testament to the spirit of human generosity—a trait that doesn’t get much play these days.
Years ago I was at a meeting in Seattle and got a tour of the new downtown Seattle Public Library. I was struck by the attention to needs of patrons, and especially to the needs of people with multiple problems and few resources. The restrooms were built knowing that some used them for basic hygiene, and a large computer room served men and women of varied ages and modes of dress. Some read papers and books and passed time, I’m sure, on long rainy Seattle days; others fought through genealogical records or, I imagine, imagined some grand explication of scientific theory or a great American novel. I remembered Ray Bradbury in the bowels of an L.A. library tapping away at Fahrenheit 451 on a two-bits per hour public typewriter, and hoped there might be another Bradbury among the 30 or 40 in the Seattle library computer room.
And I thought about books and libraries from the founding fathers to the present, and how we Americans have made libraries a place for everyone and every idea. The fact that libraries have survived through depressions and recessions, through good times and bad, is testament to our better natures. Individually, we might not like welfare or the good legislative deals handed to some business or institution, but we have room in our hearts for this one institution that is an even playing field for college professor and homeless novelist. We fund libraries publicly, and we fund public libraries and specialty libraries with donations and volunteerism. And those of us who accumulate books, papers, films, paintings, photos and related resources in our lives often want them to reach broader audiences and the next Ray Bradbury when we pass, and do all possible to make it happen.
Which brings me back to the Josephy Library of Western History and Culture in Joseph, Oregon. For years volunteer librarian Shannon Maslach has been quietly, on her own time and dime, cataloging our books and papers. She is now joined by Kay Denney, who grew up in Wallowa County, went away to teach and work in school libraries, and recently retired home. She has jumped in to join Shannon and help me in making this library work. Other friends are putting together a kids’ corner, and a local photographer came in to shoot the original maps from Josephy’s Nez Perce book for digitization. And archivists from the University of Idaho have been generous with technical assistance and suggestions for library design.
The generosity began of course with Alvin and Betty, who provided the first books, and to their children, who have stuck with me as I began figuring library things out at Fishtrap and then moved the collection to the new Josephy Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph. Daughter Allison Josephy Wolowitz recently sent us the wonderful oil portraits of her parents (they deserve and will get their own blog post), and along with her siblings made financial contributions to get us going. And now their children, Alvin and Betty’s grandchildren, are doing the same. Others have written checks to make it possible for us to remodel the library space and purchase library furniture, and contractor Charlie Kissinger made cuts on that bill.
And did I mention Lewis and Clark College—special collections librarian Doug Erickson arranged for his college to donate several hundred dollars worth of library shelving, which now hold Josephy books cataloged by volunteer librarians held together by the new bookends.
So thanks to all for contributions and support—and welcome all to see and use, to pass the time of day, chase down quirky family stories, or to write the next great American novel.
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