Saturday, February 21, 2015

little free library...

I have been asked as an artist to design and make the first of several "Little Free Libraries" in my small town of Eureka Springs. Other artists will also be invited, my mine will be first. So, in addition to other things, the role of libraries is rattling in my brain. The following is from the keynote speech at the Scandinavian conference for children’s literature and libraries in Stavanger, Norway, February 2001. Published in Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly in 2001:
In one of my childhood textbooks there was a story about the boy Mathis who desperately wanted to read, but could not get hold of any books. Then a man in the neighbouring town promised to lend him a book. On a winter’s day he walked over to fetch it, and promised himself that he would not open it till he had reached home again. But on the way back the temptation became too great. The book was burning in his hand. He unwrapped it just to have a peep inside. It was a history of the world – and opening that book meant the introduction to a completely new world. He became totally engrossed in it – forgetting everything around him. But as it was a bitterly cold and frosty day the reading turned into sleep or unconsciousness. And only because his parents began to worry and went out to look for him was he saved!

The story seems to contain an ambivalence. On the one hand reading is presented as a kind of basic urge which has a magic power of attraction. On the other hand the exact opposite: reading can be dangerous, one might even call it a death urge, because it may swallow you up and devour you, or at any rate turn your attention away from essential realities.With this ambivalence the story reflects the paradoxical ambiguity in the attitude to reading which is apparent for so long in the industrial society.
On thing you will note about libraries is that they were established in the first place to make the world available to those who have been deprived of a the full sense of the larger world than what they might find at hand. And the important word in all this is free. For free represents a set of values that is in direct contrast to the measurable "economic" values that drive nations to destruction and the deliberate destruction of each other.

My young friend Devon who is currently serving as a one man mission to Moscow, noted that my own writings and philosophy are the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, who warned against the incessant drive for "improved means to unimproved ends." Otto Salomon warned that the true value of the object could be found in the maker's development, of skill and moral fiber rather than in the object itself. While some might seek the acquisition of wealth, we might move in the other direction, the acquisition of place within community.

Idle hands are indeed the devil's workshop. Without the engagement of the hands and hearts in service to usefulness and beauty as benefits to each other, we live detached the fabric of community.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. After the recent news stories in Shreveport LA and Los Angeles CA, your friends who are setting up Little Free Libraries should call the local zoning officials to make sure that the Little Free Libraries don't violate any zoning laws.