Recently, I ran across an article which briefly recounted how and why Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to the federal government when most of our national collection was destroyed by the British during the war of 1812.
Jefferson suggested that any attempt to rebuild a national library during wartime conditions would be near-impossible, while he was living his golden years and would not be able to enjoy his library much longer. The article claimed Congress was, unsurprisingly, split in its decision on whether or not to take Jefferson up on his offer. According to Monticello.org, a site linked with Jefferson’s estate, the members of Congress who stood against the purchase did not have any issue with the sale itself but felt some of the books promoted an “infidel philosophy” and were not appropriate for American readers in part because they addressed hard topics and were not all written in English. Ultimately, the sale was narrowly approved and when the books were finally transferred to D.C. in February, 1815, Jefferson included the bookcases and clear instructions on how the books were to be shelved so as to remain a collection.
Over 210 years later, libraries across the nation have auxiliary groups which regularly sell surplus and discarded titles for a small profit alongside books donated solely for that purpose, while school libraries simply put outdated books out to intellectual pasture. One of my children brought home a pile of discards last week, an armful of treasures she snatched up from the school library discards with a poetry book among them. The writers inside the discarded book are recognizable: Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Lewis Carroll and Emily Dickinson, among others. Louis Untermeyer, the poet behind the not-anthology describes it in his introduction as “a talking book” and emphasizes the importance of literature.
“It is more important than ever to know that beauty and wit and feeling have not been silenced by the despair and violence of the moment,” Untermeyer wrote in the 1941 introduction.
Untermeyer would likely approve of someone salvaging the discarded book in a world where the evening news flashes images of the Half Moon Bay shooting or where police officers are on trial for murdering a citizen they swore to protect and defend. Articles on transgender health care bills can be found alongside updates on which football teams are going to the Super Bowl. Surely, a scruffy kid in a letterman jacket scooping up a book of poetry destined for a modern landfill confirms feeling triumphs over violence.
The poems Untermeyer gathered are nothing like Amanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’ and Jefferson likely never envisioned a young, Black girl reading poetry at a 2021 presidential inauguration. Yet his claim “I cannot live without books” is upheld every day when school librarians quietly let a teen girl take home discarded books, when Friends groups sit watch over their inexpensive treasures housed in libraries across the nation. And, if what we do speaks volumes then Jefferson’s reaction to shipping his own books off to Congress is a loud call to action: upon completing the sale with Congress, he began almost immediately to rebuild his own collection.
This month, local libraries are showing their love for, as Untermeyer said, beauty and wit and feeling along with more modern considerations with a plethora of events planned for February:
- Join National Aeronautics and Space Administration ambassador for an overview and update on NASA’s Mars 2020 mission and Artemis program at the Alpine library from 11 a.m. to Noon on Feb. 4.
- Love Your Heart is hosting free blood pressure screenings Feb. 11-18 at the Alpine library with no appointment needed for the self-service machines. Visit loveyourheartsd.org for more information.
- The Alpine Library hosts family story time every Wednesday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
- A free baby story time is also offered at the Alpine library every Friday at 10:30 a.m. • Paws for Reading: kids can read aloud to a certified therapy dog on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. Sign up for a 10-minute session at the front desk up to 15 minutes prior to event. Space is limited.
- Join in Crafters’ Paradise Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Bring your own portable project or learn how to crochet or knit with yarn provided for free.
- Teens are invited to craft Valentine’s Day cards for friends, family and others from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Alpine library. All supplies provided.
- Would you like help downloading the latest magazines, ebooks, and audiobooks for free? Stop by the Alpine library from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 16 and receive tech help from library staff on the use of the library’s many free programs.
- Kingdom Quilters will be meeting from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 18 in the Alpine library for a regular Sit & Sew quilting session to benefit children in need with the comfort of a handmade quilt. No supplies or experience necessary.
- Come discuss mystery books at the Alpine library’s Better Read Than Dead club on Feb. 21 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
- The Campo-Morena Village library holds pre-school story time every Friday from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. Best for little ones under two years of age.
- Older children are invited to the Take ‘n Make craft sessions held every Friday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Campo- Morena Village library. Craft kits are available to pick up and take home as well.
- Itching for an adventure? Join the Dungeons & Dragons group which meets Tuesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Campo- Morena Village library.
- Come learn the basics of using a desktop computer, laptop or handheld electronic devices. Receive your own Google Chrome Book and MiFi devices to take home for a year while supplies last with a county library card at the Campo-Morena Village library every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Join in the monthly book club discussion at the Campo- Morena Village library from 12 to 1 p.m. on Feb. 14.
- Stop by the Descanso library every Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. for tech help with basic computer and smartphone questions and receive one-on-one help.
- Additionally, stop by the Descanso library to pick up a craft kit every Saturday to take home and create while supplies last.
- Kids are invited to Wacky Wednesdays for a different activity from 4 to 5 p.m. every week such as Draw With Me projects, crafts, video games and 3-dimensional printing projects, all at the Descanso library.
- The Knitting Group meets at the Descanso library from 5:30 to 6:30 on Feb. 21. Adults and teens are invited to learn; seasoned knitters are welcome to bring their own projects.
- Join an adult painting class, instructor-led with all supplies provided on Feb. 4 from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Pine Valley library. Registration required, call (619) 473-8022 to reserve a spot in class.
- A kid’s painting class is also being held at the Pine Valley library, happening from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Feb 7. This is an instructor led class with all supplies provided. Registration is required to attend the class. Please call (619) 473-8022 to reserve a spot.
- The Pine Valley library offers preschool story time every Thursday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Young children are welcome to enjoy stories, songs, and movement activities followed by a to-go craft.
- School-aged children can enjoy craft sessions from 4 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays at the Pine Valley library.