While libraries across the state await a ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals on a lawsuit challenging their authority to set tax rates and library directors calculate the size of the hole in their budgets if the General Assembly passes a law permitting property value administrators to access a new fee on special taxing districts, here's a story confirming the intangible value of libraries.
Anne Caudill, the vital and lively 90-year-old subject of author Terry Cummins' new memoir, The Caudills of the Cumberlands, Anne's Story of Life with Harry, recently captivated a room full of Scott County library patrons, sharing stories about her life, marriage and role in her husband's classic book on Appalachia, Night Comes to the Cumberlands.
Passionate about literacy and libraries, she was asked how the library in Whitesburg came to be. At the same time, she eloquently answered the question "Do libraries matter?"
"I'm addicted to libraries and have been all my life. I was library chairperson of the Whitesburg Women's Club, and women's clubs across the state were dedicated to improving library service and putting a bookmobile into every Kentucky county. Library? In Whitesburg? What library?"
"The town's early library just happened to be located in a Quonset hut down a narrow street behind the jail. Open two hours, two days a week, books were piled everywhere on the floor; there were no shelves. They were discarded from the one and two-room schoolhouses abandoned years ago," she said. "There was, however, one box from a Newark, N.J. library. It was a mighty slender beginning.
"You needed a tax if you wanted to build a library, so Harry went to work at it. He canvassed local meetings — the union hall, PTA meetings, Rotary, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, asking folks to support the tax. The tax passed and the women's club got to work, converting a donated L&N depot waiting room into the new public library.
"With the help of the county Jaycees, who turned fire hoses on the sooty walls and floors to clean it off, we got it spic and span, and painted it. The women's club furnished it. We sewed curtains and it was all very cheerful. We received a bookmobile and then the regional librarians from Frankfort came and stayed for two weeks, sorting through boxes of beautiful new books from the state library.
"The rest of us made dustcovers for the books from discarded wallpaper books from the hardware store, which were neatly arranged on the new wood shelves.
"I remember when the schoolchildren first came. The schoolchildren loved the books, and carried six and seven books out in bags. I particularly remember one child: Her parents could only sign documents with an X. She later became a schoolteacher."
That is Caudill's answer to the question "Do libraries matter?" and it is a reminder that the words on a printed page in a book are transformative.
Sharon Roggenkamp is media coordinator for Scott County Public Library.