Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick: The library was a refuge

"In many ways, I think that library saved my life."

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I'd go to the Carnegie Library in the Oakland area. And for me it was where I could go and just lose myself in a book, and sometimes find a sense of community that I wasn't really finding at school.

So, in many ways I think that libraries saved my life. 

You know when we first moved to what's now my home, Nantuckett Island, twenty-five years ago, our kids were one and four and I was a  stay-at-home dad.  And I was new to the area, looking for things to do with the children.

We stumbled upon  the Nantuckett Atheneum, which is a wonderful historic building, but it's also the public library and they had a children's section down in the basement and that became where we'd just hang out every afternoon.

I got to know the librarian, the staff. A years later, I  was asked to come on the board, and that institution, more than any other, I've ever been associated with helped me find...make a home and a very special place.

And also gave me the stuff, the documents to eventually become a historian. Because that's where my research began, on the history of Nantuckett, which was actually led to my first history book. So the Nantuckett Athaneum, for me, is really where it all began, in a sense, as a father and as a writer.

And it continues,  the reference librarian, Sharon, at the library fifteen years ago when I was first beginning "In the Heart of the Sea," was my lifeline to other places, and so the interlibrary loan was how I was able to write this book on an island. thirty miles out to sea.

It's obviously critical to all aspects of who I am.

I have to say that the entire staff at the Nantuckett Atheneum, past and present, are just... they are fundamental community members, and without them Nantuckett, particularly the off season, would not have a heart, really. It's what keeps it all going.

Libraries are vital and they're always under-funded and under-appreciated in terms of the costs required to maintain it. Particularly for the Atheneum, which is a historical building. It's not just a library. It's part of the fabric...

Library budget cuts are just so misguided, because libraries in bad economic times are the ultimate refuge for people. And to cut staff, as they become more and more important and relevant to community and society is just senseless.

Politicians and community members need to know the importance that these institutions have and you just cannot cut them, because they're already to the bone.

[On censorship]

This whole notion of banning a book is so misguided because, the minute it's banned, it's important, because people wonder why.

The whole reason this country is here is because we're supposedly keeping those gates open. We all have choice, we all have the ability to make those kinds of decisions. To make those decisions for us, I think, is misguided and personally, being a contrarian, if I'm told that I'm not supposed to read them, that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Well, I just have a new book coming out, "Why Read Moby Dick," and that's coming out in October. I'm really excited. I'm known as a historian, but this is as much a work of literary criticism and its very personal, because for me, it's kind of a personal bible.

But what I'm now doing, research-wise, is a book about Boston and the American Revolution, so that's what I'm in the middle of now, and really enjoying the research, going to the spots, and hopefully start writing soon.

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Book Title: 

In the Heart of the Sea

Library Name: 

Carnegie Library in the Oakland, Pennsylvania