News of library challenges rekindle memories

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Reprinted courtesy of: Great Falls Tribune

By: Phil Drake

I have a friend named Pant who loves libraries.

Well, really, my friend’s name is Curt, but a few of us jokingly call him Pant because he owns only one pair of pants, which he wears all the time and are oddly clean and spotless.

And he really, really loves libraries.

We were co-workers in Southern California and there was a time or two that we would head to Las Vegas to spend money we didn’t have. I’d hit the casinos while Pant would amble off to the libraries for an eight-to-10-to 12-hour stretch. Both of us were usually broke, so on the rare occasion I’d win a dollar or two, I’d treat us to dinner. Pant — coming across as something like a chubby, bespectacled Indiana Jones — would regale me with stories of finding some rare magazine or a fascinating book on obscure topics such as salt or foam. You could not tell who was the richer man sitting at the table.

“Has any of this fancy book reading ever done you any good?” I asked him once during a conversation where, in between gulps of Jim Beam and Diet Pepsi, I peppered sentences with the word “lie-berry” instead of library. He couldn’t recall a time, but I didn’t douse his unquenchable thirst for books.

It isn’t just Vegas; you can name any big city in America and Pant will wax poetic about the wonders of its libraries. His road trips have one purpose: Get thee to a periodical.

So it was with him in mind that I read the other week not one, but two stories in the Tribune about challenges facing libraries. In Big Sandy, the library is looking for a new home. In Great Falls, they’ve had to cut back hours and laid off staff in the wake of budget challenges.

I’ve always been the braying jackass in most newsrooms who asks: “Aren’t libraries obsolete? Aren’t people getting all they want from the Internet?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love libraries and always have a book or two going. And holding a book in my hand is infinity times better than trying to read it from some computerized tablet.

But I worry for the future of libraries.

Do children still go to them and discover wonderful, brave new worlds and have horizons opened to them? Does their bigness and variety still make jaws drop? Do they conjure up memories of the bibliophile in the “Twilight Zone” episode who yearns for nothing but time to read his beloved books, only to have his glasses break when given that chance?

Are they still a valuable resource and sanctuary where silence is golden?

Maybe it’s time folks like me touch base with their local library, learn about its needs and if there is anything that we can do. If enough chip in, maybe we won’t be asked for much.

I’d hate to see libraries go; they are such a glorious launching pad into boundless skies where the only limits are your imagination.

So make that call, but don’t do it for me. Do it for Pant.

PHIL DRAKE is assistant night editor of the Great Falls Tribune. Email him at pdrake@greatfallstribune.com.

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