Guest blog: Michigan Notable Book Award winner Sara Fitzgerald celebrates “the magic of libraries”

by Emily on April 27, 2012

Tomorrow evening the Library of Michigan will host the “Night for Notables,” an event honoring the authors of this year’s Michigan Notable Books. Here, Sara Fitzgerald, author of Elly Peterson: “Mother” of the Moderates, a Michigan Notable Book of 2012, reflects on the value of libraries.

This week, I’m preparing to head back to Michigan for the Library of Michigan’s Night for Notables, recognizing the authors of the 20 books that were recognized as Michigan Notable Books of 2012. Through the Library of Michigan Foundation, support is also provided for the authors to make appearances at libraries around the state. And as I ready my remarks and my Power Point presentations, I find myself reflecting on the enduring magic of libraries, and the important role they continue to play in encouraging both reading and writing—two skills that are critical to preserving a democratic society.

I can still remember the school library at Bentley Elementary School outside of Flint, Michigan, a room that was probably no larger than 100 square feet. I remember the hand-written letter from Laura Ingalls Wilder to my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, and how Mrs. Anderson’s oral reading got me hooked on that series a half-century ago. I can remember gravitating to the biographies of the mid-century American heroines, Helen Keller, Betsy Ross and Amelia Earhart.

I can still remember trips downtown to what was then the brand-new Flint Public Library. It had a large, bright children’s section—and more volumes to devour. I can remember listening to records that captured Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts from the rooftops ofLondonduring the Blitz. I remember checking out an oversized photo history of the White House from somewhere in the Adult collections.

I remember many hours of combing through magazines of the 1920s in what’s now the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, while researching my senior history thesis on flappers back in 1973. It was the early days of the discipline of women’s history, and a wonderful time to be exploring new academic territory.

And then, when it came time to research my book, there were the wonderful librarians at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan who supported me as I delved into the two dozen boxes that held the personal papers of  my biographical subject, Elly Peterson. (And I shouldn’t forget the librarians at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the Library of Congress, the Penn State University Special Collections and Smith College who also helped me access their collections, too.)

Earlier this month, my husband walked two blocks to the public library in Falls Church, Virginia, where we now live. He spotted a book on the shelves, checked it out and brought it home for me because he thought I would enjoy it. It was John U. Bacon’s Three and Out, the story of Rich Rodriguez’s three years as coach of theUniversity ofMichigan football team.

He was right.

Thank you, libraries and librarians, for being there when I needed you.

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