What a thing, this link that’s being passed around, posted on Boing Boing and tweeted all over the place! The letters to the children of Troy: congratulatory messages solicited from writers, politicians, and other famous folk to commemorate the opening of the first stand-alone library in Troy, Michigan, way back in 1971.
Isaac Asimov’s index-card letter has gotten a lot of play:
E. B. White’s speaks more seriously to me, and mostly for his last line:
But it’s the letter from Clifton Wharton, then-president of MSU, that strikes me most deeply. You wouldn’t be able to guess just by reading it, I don’t think—it’s solid, but not soaring:
On the surface, this whole collection is such a cute little thing, so easy to write off: just a bunch of folksy letters sent to a new library in a suburban town. (By the way: who would even send such letters today? Or ask for them?) Lovely. Let’s move on to the next link.
But here’s the thing. I grew up in Troy, Michigan; this library, the subject of all this celebration, was my library. I spent a significant fraction of the mid-80s and early 90s in there, migrating from the Choose Your Own Adventure books on the spinning wire racks to the science fiction and fantasy novels on the long low shelves. I can still draw you a map of the place, and roughly plot Dewey decimal ranges. I can still remember the mechanical swish of the automatic door, the cold AC in the foyer, the lignin smell. I can remember whole sensory macros: my dad pulling the car up to the curb; me hopping out, hustling to the entrance; the whoosh-thunk of books going down the after-hours chute; the turn, the sprint.
And here’s the other thing. I went to school at Michigan State and grew into myself on the campus that Clifton Wharton helped build. I walked past the building marked with his name hundreds of times—maybe more. Maybe a thousand. And I mean, my god: I met Tim Carmody on that campus!
So this little correspondence cracked like lightning in my head. I mean, it’s no big deal; it’s a small thing, it’s a letter, they were both in Michigan, it makes perfect sense. And yet, and yet. Clifton Wharton, president of Michigan State University, and Marguerite Hart, librarian of Troy: a tangible thread connected them. And as soon as you realize that, you can’t help but imagine the other threads, the other connections, that all together make a net, woven before you were born, before you were even dreamed of—a net to catch you, support you, lift you up. Libraries and universities, books and free spaces—all for us, all of us, the children of Troy everywhere.
What fortune. Born at the right time.
If you are a child reading this, you should go home and make a Hawaiian flower lei—you get a needle and thread and sew the flowers together into a ring—and put it around the neck of the City of Troy librarian. It will tell her that you are grateful for the gift of books and of wisdom and of aloha found in the libraries of the world, and especially—for you—in Troy. And if she laughs and cries at the same time, pay no attention. That’s the way librarians always act when they’re very happy and grateful […]
And it’s not the librarian laughing and crying at the same time here; it’s me. Every time I’ve read these letters, it’s me.