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Fight For The Library, Get Help

Re: “Dire Financial Straits” Sunday Post-Journal (Saturday-Sunday, October 12-13)

Although I have lived in New York City for nearly 40 years, I still care about what happens in my hometown. Over the decades, as I have returned to Jamestown for family events and vacations, I have sadly witnessed the disappearance of iconic landmarks that gave the region a certain charm and photographic allure. But I always knew, or at least I thought I did, that the beautiful Prendergast Library would endure. It is the first place I visit during my stays.The dispiriting truth is that the library’s current situation, as conveyed by its board, warns of a diminished literary and intellectual vibrancy in Jamestown. I think it’s fair to say that The Prendergast is one of the few historic institutions in the town that has instructional resonance for people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It is open to everyone and reaches many who otherwise would not have access to expensive books and reading materials. And so the way the library is being treated by city governance is even more demoralizing.When I was a teenager, I had the fortune of being a student in Richard Kimball’s inspiring AP European History Class at JHS. (Dick, as most of you well know, went on to become mayor in the mid-1990s.) Every so often the class was assigned a paper by Mr. Kimball with the command to THINK! One of the most memorable of my writings for that class was a short biography of Catherine the Great. I labored over my essay…in the James Prendergast Library. To this day, I recall the specifics of that effort; for me the craft of writing is associated with the quiet of the Prendergast’s luminous reading room.After graduate school, I went to New York City to start my career. I became an editor, translator, and writer with a focus on helping Latino youth. I became the wife of a a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, the son of poor Cuban immigrants. I have the honor of counting among my friends the world’s most accomplished wordsmiths. They all say the same thing about their beginnings: they were nurtured by the public libraries of their hometowns. From the beloved journalist Pete Hamill to my groundbreaking late husband, Oscar Hijuelos, to the noble playwright August Wilson. (Wilson, by the way, designed his bespoke high school education in a downtown library in Pittsburgh. In fact he received an honorary high school diploma from that library, the Carnegie.)An aside about the actual physical nature of a library and how important it can be for the soul. A few years back a colleague of mine at Columbia University was lamenting the fact that Alzheimer’s had stolen his ability to wander through the stacks, as if on a pilgrimage. He explained it this way: “The element of surprise, of coming upon a book I didn’t know existed has been taken from me.” To those who would say that the internet affords the same experience of discovery, I would emphatically disagree. A library has tactile delight. One walks through hallways of books and sniffs around. One spies a fallen volume, a torn cover, a strange and delightful name, next to a familiar one, that encourages touch and a closer look. The very structure of a library has significance that can’t be replicated by digital means.Residents of Jamestown: Ask your elected officials to think out of the box and use their imaginations to safeguard your special literary holdings and the stately building in which those archives are kept. Demand that city hall restore proper funding to your library. Fight for the Prendergast. And to the board, specifically, I say: Reach out to individuals who, like me, may not live in town but still have benefited from the library’s treasures. We can assist you in curating fundraisers, programs, and events that will capitalize on the work and value of Jamestown’s beloved, worthy repository of knowledge…so that it will not only exist but thrive in the future.

Lori Carlson-Hijuelos is a Jamestown native who now lives in New York City.

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