Libraries basis of educational achievement

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 8, 2005

You might be tempted to surmise from the title of this column that we are about to observe National Library Week, or host a convention of librarians from across the nation.

While those two events would be well received here in Demopolis – in fact, I am certain they would be – the crux of today’s diatribe has to do with a notion which might be articulated as follows:

Knowledge is inherently good, in and of itself, and inasmuch as libraries have served as the vessels, the harbingers, and the repositories of archived knowledge they are the only sign any civilization can exhibit that it has knowledge, or at the very least, that it has been exposed to the knowledge it houses in its libraries.

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When I was a high school student, it was the place to go on a week night to get some studying completed and to meet friends.

Often we shared interesting new books, compared essays, and solved physics and math problems.

We had a very concerned librarian, I know of none who are not,

and she began to see that our group of seven was very serious about knowledge.

It may have been that we were all fledgling intellectual snobs, but since our group included two football players, a tennis player, a basketball player and two baseball players the “intellectual” moniker somehow did not stick.

Undaunted, we were a regular fixture Tuesday through Thursday nights during our senior year in high school.

Hence, the librarian began to set up some “projects” and “challenges” for us, which we readily bought into.

She had us looking for elements of a physics problem that I did not encounter again until my junior year in college!

And, most important to me, she did not let my fellow members of the group hassle me too much about my penchant for philosophy.

She showed me some additional writings of Plato which opened up my world forever.

But this is not so much about our librarian, as it is about the function of libraries in our educational culture.

The stereotypical library presents a staunch, stark, cold, and even indifferent environment where no one was to speak louder than three decibels or to walk knowing where the creeks in the floorboards were.

But we all know libraries are more than that.

With it all, there was always an attraction to return to that place where dreams could come alive, where hopes could be mapped out to become accomplishments, where wishes for achievement could be realized when patterned after some predecessor who had shared the same wish and had made it come true.

And I am convinced that it was the atmosphere saturated with understanding, knowledge, challenge, hope, mystery, and promise that laid the foundation for the success of our group of seven.

You see, of that group, one became a noted ophthalmologist, two became lawyers one of whom has argued before the United States Supreme Court, one became a highly successful CPA,

and the remaining three of us all have our Ph.D.’s, and one of them is a noted authority on the history of the Yucatan Peninsula and its ancient civilizations.

We had our knowledge priorities seemingly well organized even then.

But it would have been very different had we not been able to travel the world of ideas, to see the problems we pondered already encountered and resolved, to feel the heartbeats of authors, scientists, explorers, generals, clergymen, statesmen, and philosophers all in our library.

It could not have been so if we had no library.

Say what we may about the spiritual limitations of the Puritans, we have them to thank for having started libraries in the New World, i.e., Harvard University’s library.

And it is no less important to note that it was the Early Church, with its cloistered monks, who saw the great and overwhelming need to catalog history and knowledge and to archive that cataloging in libraries

and then to build universities around them.

Today, the library has expanded far beyond its immediate holdings as volumes.

It is part of the internet with its vastness that can

span eons of discovery and archived knowledge, so that we can get not only books there, we can gain access to a plethora of databases which will add to our discovery.

At the same time, they open ever new worlds to those of us so inclined to venture there.

And this is why we feel proud to live in Demopolis.

While some of us may think our public library could be more, it does more with what it has than one could ever hope to imagine.

It is staffed by a dedicated, well-educated, and knowledgeable cadre of caring and intelligent individuals.

We are the beneficiaries of the wealth of our library.

It reminds me of something my Great-Uncle Cabel told me long before his death at age 98 – “Ahtha,” he’d say in his slow, East Tennessee drawl, “When you walk into a library, you are walkin’ on hallowed ground.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Uncle Cabel!

– Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at