Library Obrion cartoon

Life is filled with passages. Some are beginnings; some are not.

Since the re-opening of the Raleigh Court Library, hardly a day passes that someone doesn’t share his or her appreciation for what the City of Roanoke is doing with its libraries. The same encounters followed the re-opening of the Main Library, the Gainsboro Library and the Jackson Park Library.

I am happy to hear the news. I have been involved with Roanoke Public Libraries for two decades during which time I held leadership positions with the Roanoke Public Library Advisory Board and the Roanoke Public Library Foundation.

The praise is much appreciated by all the people who have worked to make the public library system a public service that delivers what the citizens have asked for during this long design and construction process.

The libraries have become for me a symbol of what people can accomplish by acting together for the common good. No one person or group gets everything, but everyone gets enough of what they want so that the entire community is served. That is the purpose of government as defined by the United States Constitution.

The ancillary effects of the new libraries are many, and we will see others as time passes. Prospective business citizens are given a library tour to show how we care for our literacy and our personal betterment. Citizens who expressed skepticism that the city would do something for them now feel as if their local government cares about their needs.

Children have safe places to gather after school – places where they can continue learning in a relaxed atmosphere and according to their own agendas. Young mothers have spaces where they can encourage their children to read and learn. Neighborhood groups have places to meet. Others can find refuge for a few minutes of reading or thinking. Some just want to be near other people.

My personal benefit derived from my association with the public libraries begins with the pride of having been an active participant in the program from the days when I would travel around the city to speak to people about the need to actively support libraries and their renovation and expansion.

However gratifying all of that may be, the most enlightening part of the process has been meeting and getting to know my fellow citizens – good people I may never have met.

One of those happy encounters was with Owen Schultz whose recent death has left many in Roanoke stunned and saddened. But Owen was not a sad person. He was perpetually young and preternaturally happy. When Owen entered a room, the mood was lightened and the collective IQ was dramatically increased.

Owen loved libraries and what they can do for people who need their services. The night before the re-opening of the Raleigh Court Library, Owen toured the building, led by his beatific smile. He had the aura of a new grandparent staring into his grandchild’s crib.

Now every time I step into a public library in Roanoke, I will always feel the warmth of Owen’s smile – his and the smiles of others – Al Holland had the same countenance - who loved the community enough to do the yeoman work necessary to make this a wonderful place to live for future generations.

On the occasion of our having lost Owen, I am reminded of a line from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

And when he shall die, cut him out in little stars, and he will make a face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night.

So for all of you who have expressed your appreciation for the new libraries, please know that these new facilities are the collective work of people of all walks of life from all sections of the City – people like Owen Schultz and Al Holland and others you may never meet who have made it possible for you and me to “be in love with night.”

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