February 16, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Libraries are influential in bettering people’s lives

Shirley Vogler MeisterAlthough the word “love” is often trivialized, I can say with all my heart that “I love books.”

The printed word has always played a big part in my life, with the major influence being libraries.

Recently, I have been pained by controversies surrounding the Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library system. So I was pleased when Louis J. Mahern, president of the IMCPL board of trustees, responded to e-mails that I sent him.

Incidentally, his mother, Elsye Mahern, wrote a column called “Family Growing Pains” from 1950-59 for The Indiana Catholic and Record, the predecessor of The Criterion.

Some of her columns were collected in a book titled Save Us a Seat, Timmy, published by Grail Press at St. Meinrad. Timmy was Mahern’s brother, who died at age 6 in 1949.

I feel a kinship with Elsye. Perhaps she had youthful experiences that paved the way toward a love for reading, writing and specifically books, just as I did.

During early grade school years, mine included walking more than a dozen blocks to a St. Louis library, sometimes staying longer than I should have then losing my way in the dark but eventually getting home safely. Twelve years of Catholic education also strongly encouraged reading.

How appropriate that Elsye’s son, Louis Mahern, is now in a key position to help keep libraries available to everyone.

“The library plays an ever more important role in our lives,” Mahern wrote in response to my e-mails. “As the Information Age progresses, the sort of information to which the library provides access is even more vital.

“At least 300,000 Marion County residents do not have broad-band access to the Internet in their homes,” he wrote. “… The public library … provides [this] for these folks. … The library helps patrons prepare resumes and apply online for employment.

“Last year, more than 5.6 million physical visits were recorded at our branches and our interim Central Library,” he wrote. “We had greater attendance than the [Indianapolis] Symphony [Orchestra], the IRT [Indiana Repertory Theater], the [Indiana] State Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Eiteljorg [Museum of American Indians and Western Art], the [Indiana] State Fair, the Indianapolis Indians, the [Indianapolis] Colts, the [Indiana] Pacers, the [Indianapolis] 500, the Brickyard [400] and the Formula One races combined.

“When we recently polled our patrons,” he noted, “we received more than 5,000 responses, giving us an overall rating of 8.5 on a 10 point scale.”

That’s impressive. However, I suspect that even libraries in small towns have similar ratios.

May God keep libraries alive and well for future generations.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

Local site Links: