A library opens doors to the world
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“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”
- Henry Ward Beecher

One scene is an otherwise average documentary sticks clearly in my mind as a moment of such basic and universal humanity that you’re left speechless. A journalist travelling around the US drives through the Navajo Nation. He meets a young mother living in a seemingly isolated area with her family, without electricity or running water, unemployed and lacking opportunities to change her situation. He asks, “What do you most need in your community?” The young woman sighs a most dignified, knowledgeable, weary sigh and says, “a library.”

Today the Thoreau Community Center is offering just that. The budding library – including a collection of children’s, young adults, and adult fiction and non-fiction – is intended to reach residents of not only Thoreau, but also Smith Lake, Mariano Lake and Baca/Prewitt. There are only a handful of public libraries in the Eastern Navajo Agency, and this new library will be the only public library within a 30-mile radius, meaning hundreds of square miles. Little by little, it can become an excellent complement to the State Library’s Rural Bookmobile, which stops in the area once a month.  In short, and as countless community residents have said, “We need this.”

Thoreau Community Center was opened in 2010 as a forward-looking response to the tragic loss of area youth through suicide. The center’s first goal is “to inspire hope, joy and progress,” and it does so daily through computer training courses, Native flute classes, free internet access, and the after-school program for youth, to name a few. And what better way to inspire hope, joy, and progress than through the free flow of knowledge, ideas, and experience that books can provide? A mere three months ago, youth could browse through some 30 books; today they have 3,000 titles to choose from. Three thousand books through which to escape, travel, question, feel, learn, and be inspired.

This library is taking shape the way the Thoreau Community Center has from the start: as a truly collaborative, community effort. Initiated by an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer with a passion for books since early childhood, the library gained momentum as residents of the area stepped up to help. After only a few months, the Center’s collection is now on the path to recognition by the State as a developing library.

Without a designated budget, the library has come together like a modern day stone soup. Book drives have been organized in Gallup, Denver, and Pueblo. Collection boxes have been set up at numerous sites. Dozens of individuals, libraries, thrift stores and institutions have donated books. Bookshelves, and lumber for building more, have been given to the Center. Cushions have been sewn to provide a comfortable place for library patrons to sit. Volunteers have given time to sort through, repair and label the books. Area librarians have provided valuable advice and support. Residents have contributed their own gas and vehicle use to pick up donations in Grants, Gallup, Window Rock and Shiprock.

Such dedication and effort on the part of so many individuals could seem excessive if you consider a library a simple “luxury;” but if you see a library as “one of the necessities of life,” then this initiative takes on new meaning, as an ambitious collective effort to provide an under-resourced community – and particularly its youth – with an open doorway to the many forms of knowledge and wealth the world has to offer.

As J. A. Langford said, “The only true equalizers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth which will not decay is knowledge; the only jewel which you can carry beyond the grave is wisdom.”

Karen S., New Mexico, United States