My turn

Revel in national library collection next weekend

2010-12-05T00:00:00Z Revel in national library collection next weekendBy Bill Vargo Times Columnist
December 05, 2010 12:00 am  • 

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

~ Ray Bradbury

When Ray Bradbury wrote "Fahrenheit 451" in the early 1950s, he wanted to portray a world in which conformity suppressed knowledge. Books in this fictional world were subversive and dangerous. What better way to put out the danger than to enlist those who protect us in the pursuit of those dangerous ideas. Since technology had solved the need for firemen to put out fires, the natural order was to have them doing the reverse, burning those dangerous books.

Nearly 60 years later, the danger exists in much the same way that Bradbury wrote about. There has existed the idea that the written word is dangerous probably long before Luther posted his notice on the church door some 500 years ago. Knowledge is power and from Luther to Bradbury on up to the present, the written word and the collection of those ideas and philosophies handed down is as important as ever.

Bradbury once said he received an education better than any a college could provide through the library in his hometown. For 10 years, he said, he read everything he could get his hands on and from that he wrote a thousand stories. For those of us that hold the written word dear, and I suppose most of us do or we wouldn't be communicating in this way, the repositories of these ideas and stories are important.

The Library of Congress, established by an act of Congress in 1800, is today the largest library in the world by almost any measure, with more than 32 million cataloged books and another 61 million manuscripts. Think of any book you have ever read or hope to read, it is likely it is housed in some form or fashion in the three buildings that constitute the Library of Congress.

I find the early stages of the library's history most fascinating. When the British burned the capital during the War of 1812, the library was virtually destroyed. It was then that former President Thomas Jefferson stepped forward and sold his personal collection of 6,487 books for $23,940 in order to "recommence" its collection. This collection was thought to be the largest and finest in the country at that time.

The Library of Congress will be in town next week, sort of. A specially designed 18-wheel semi will roll into the parking lot of the Lake County Public Library's main branch Dec. at 1919 W. 81st Ave. in Merrillville on Dec. 10 and leave Dec. 11. The semi is designed to offer people across the Midwest an opportunity to see the collection in both written and electronic form.

For teachers and students, this is an opportunity to see and touch, if only in facsimile, the collection as we would see it in Washington, D.C. "We were contacted by the Library of Congress and were thrilled to be a hosting site for this exhibit," said Jennifer Burnison from the Lake County Public Library. "The exhibit will be visible for passing motorists on (U.S.) Route 30," she said, "and be open from 10 (a.m.) to 6 (p.m.) on Friday and Saturday." In the words of Librarian of Congress James Billington, this exhibit will play a role "in sharing the national collection with the people to whom it belongs."

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at


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