For the week of August 12 thru August 18, 1998  

Community Library is a jewel

Commentary by Pat Murphy


When bookworms of the Pacific Northwest Library Association gather for their meeting here this week, our Community Library’s staff, volunteers and supporters can be forgiven if they beat their chests and sprinkle boasts like angel dust among their visiting peers.

Ours is unique among all public libraries, big and small.

As far as longtime library director Ollie Cossman can determine, the Community Library is the only public library that doesn’t ask for-- or receive-- a penny from any government body.

Every cent is raised privately, thank you, the ultimate insurance against the vagaries of capricious government policies and vicissitudes of fickle public funding that leave other libraries hanging by their fingertips at budget time.

If Bald Mountain is emblematic of the Wood River Valley’s reputation as a resort, then the Community Library personifies our civic conscience.

Look beyond the well-organized collection of 70,000-plus books, the impressive children’s library, and the uncommon regional history collection of thousands of photographs, taped recollections, maps and historical memorabilia.

That impeccable complex fronting on Spruce Avenue is more: it’s a monument to the stubborn determination of 17 women founders of the library to bring the ultimate symbol of civility to the area, as well as a tribute to the tenacity of successors and supporters to build on the vision of library pioneers.

Of all the cultural philanthropies that distinguish the Wood River Valley as extraordinarily beneficent, the library to my mind is the dominant jewel on a glittering crown of gems.

Along with a long line of others in my country-bred family, I had the advantage of only a year in college (although collecting an honorary Ph.D late in life).

But I benefited from a hunger for learning that I satisfied through books and newspapers. I turned to libraries wherever I traveled, including a small one on a Korean War-era troop ship crossing the Pacific. The Community Library was one of my first stops when I moved to Ketchum. I wrote a check for $100 as a thank-you for the library just being there, obtaining my card, then prowling the aisles, licking my chops while savoring the trove this wondrous small-town institution offers for virtually every casual or serious taste.

The late journalist-diplomat Clare Booth Luce, whose husband Henry Luce founded Time and Life magazines, said this of her love affair with books:

"Books are like vitamins. When you walk into a library, you tend to pick, almost instinctively, the intellectual or emotional vitamins you need."

Those with only the barest education can immerse themselves in books of the Community Library and, in time, walk away as knowledgeable as college grads, as worldly as a globe-girdling travelers – having imbibed on the genius of time’s greatest thinkers.

Heaven has a special place for the 17 women who kicked in $1 apiece 43 years ago to establish a library fund, then methodically and tirelessly dreamed up ways of raising funds to build what is today’s growing, sophisticated library complex.

Now with a budget of more than $700,000 a year, the library’s momentum is fueled by the proceeds from the Gold Mine Thrift Shop, and Lord knows how many special events and the big hearts of generous residents who understand the necessity of a library to the character of a town.

A community can survive without a lot of trappings. But life would be unimaginable, even intolerable, without access to books and the rich, perpetual store of knowledge and information that helps separate the civilized from the barbarian.

 

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