In 1986, there was a fire at the Los Angeles Central Library that injured 50 firefighters and damaged or destroyed more than a million books. Orlean looks into the causes and tries to uncover the mystery of the fire. As part of her investigation, she explores the library’s history and uncovers stories from people who have worked there in the past and who work there now.
“The Library Book” shows the bigger role that libraries play in communities, and it made me think more about our local libraries.
Both the Spring Lake and the Loutit district libraries have long histories and their own unique stories. They both started out small and grew over time.
Like the Los Angeles library, the Grand Haven library also experienced a fire. In 1870, the Central School was located on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Sixth Street. It included grades 5-12 and a library, which was located on the second floor.
On March 5, 1901, the three-story school building was destroyed by a devastating arson fire that was so big that its glow could be seen from Grand Rapids. At the time, the library had about 4,600 books. After the fire, the Women’s City Club raised funds so that the library could reopen in the new Central School.
In “The Library Book,” Orlean talks about the loss of the library and the hole it can leave in a community when it’s not there.
Libraries are like community hubs that connect people — they welcome everyone and provide access to a range of materials, inspiration, knowledge and experiences. Orleans writes, “The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace.” It’s something to think about.
At the Spring Lake District Library (sllib.org), some events that are happening include a Kids’ Open Art Café on April 1 at 2 p.m., where kids can create projects with supplies from the library. On Monday night, there was an event with speaker Guy Stern, who was born in Hildesheim, Germany, in 1922. Stern talked about his experiences as a refugee during World War II that brought him to Fort Richie, Maryland, and eventually to Europe for Naval Intelligence. At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, there’s a Teen Scape scheduled for ages 10-18, where they can play video games, do crafts and eat pizza.
In Grand Haven, at the Loutit District Library, there’s a Coffee and Coloring Group where people can get together and color on Tuesday, April 2, from 10 a.m. until noon. Next up is a Coffee and Genealogy Group on Monday, April 8, at 2 p.m. The library’s website (loutitlibrary.org) also provides information on how you can get your taxes filed for free if you earn less than $66,000 a year.
Libraries are more than just places for books; they help ground our communities.
About the writer: Carrie Brown is a freelance communications professional and writer who lives in Spring Lake. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she won the Avery Hopwood Award for Poetry.