Brain Pickings

The Temple of Knowledge: An Animated Celebration of How Libraries Change Lives

One man’s love letter to finding higher horizons among the stacks.

“Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries. “A library is a rainbow in the clouds,” Maya Angelou exulted in reflecting on how a library saved her life. It was thanks to the library that James Baldwin read his way from Harlem to the literary pantheon. “You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her wonderful poems celebrating libraries and librarians.

This life-altering power of libraries is what humanistic oral history powerhouse StoryCorps celebrates in The Temple of Knowledge — a lovely animated memoir by Ronald Clark, whose father served as custodian of a New York Public Library branch in an era when library caretakers and their families lived among the books.

Complement with another wonderful StoryCorps short on how a library saved a young Native American woman’s life, then revisit Robert Dawson’s photographic love letter to public libraries, Carl Sagan on how reading paves the way for democracy, and Maurice Sendak’s marvelous vintage posters celebrating libraries and reading.

UPDATE: See A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader — a collection of 121 letters to children by some of the most inspiring humans of our time about the transformative power of reading, with all proceeds benefiting the public library system.

Published February 20, 2018




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