Blog / 2021 / We Are All the Children of the Public Library.

July 15, 2021

As a kid, my relationship with the public library was uncomplicated. This institution gave me as many books as I wanted and, when I was done with them, I gave them back. I’d never received that kind of generosity or trust from anyone who wasn’t family or friend—at least not knowingly—and, even at six years old, I sensed it was special.

Multnomah County Public Library
Multnomah County Library (AKA my forever-library in my heart), Portland, Oregon, photo by David

As I got older, my relationship with the library deepened. I began to understand the concept of civic sharing, or sharing with everyone around you through the intermediary of an institution like the library. Eventually, it dawned on me that civic sharing is the basis for society.

Without an ability to trust each other and be generous with people we don’t know, we wouldn’t be able to live as we do, in large communities. We wouldn't have roads or multi-household dwellings. Hospitals and schools would be impossible dreams, and you can forget about plumbing and electricity.

Without civic sharing, civilization crumbles.

And, for many kids, the first time civic sharing enters their lives in an obvious way is through a library. Every book you check out is a small but tangible piece of your community. When you’re careful not to crease the pages of the library book, it’s because, on some level, you’re thinking of the other people who will read it. And when you’re enjoying the book, that pleasure is shared with everyone else who’s checked it out.

Library books are a part of the “us” that, too often, we forget we are a part of as well.

Devil’s Garden in Utah
Devil’s Garden, Utah, photo by David

In driving back and forth across the country over the last seven weeks, I’ve intersected with a lot of that “us,” including the spectacular hoodoos of the Southwest. After fifteen months of diligently staying at home and doing my part for the civic project of keeping us all safe from COVID, it’s been a delight to experience some of the “us” that’s further away from home. It’s helped me remember that, when I think about sharing with everyone around me, the “everyone” I’m referring to is worldwide and definitely not limited to humans.

All of this is why I ♥ the public library so hard. It’s why I made Baby Sees ABCs, and it’s why I’m exhibiting it at the Princeton Public Library this summer!

I’ll be speaking more about the library and my art on Tuesday at an online talk with Mic Boekelmann, whose work is currently on display at PPL as well. The event starts at 7:30p (New York time). I hope you’ll join us!

UPDATE

July 21, 2021

A recording of Mic’s and my talk is now available!


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