I live in a small town in the midwest, a village, really. It’s the kind of place that still elects village trustees and a village president rather than a mayor. This quaint Agatha Christie village just recently installed its first fast food franchise, a twenty-four hour McDonald’s.

This evidence of “progress” in our Thornton Wilder-esque town is not only bad for my waistline, it’s Mcgreasy ease and convenience stands in marked contrast to the other sign of progress in our village, our newly built, slowly expanding library. The community passed a referendum to build the library, but still, after numerous, numerous (and I mean, numerous) attempts, has failed to pass a second referendum to stock and run it, and the librarians have been forced to be highly creative to figure out how to fill the shelves and offer relevant, interesting programming that appeals to its citizens.

In my mind, a library reflects a community’s values, is emblematic of a sense of a burgeoning intellectual curiosity among these small-town midwesterners. It is the real sign of progress in our little world, in contrast to the open-all-night fast food joint. The success in even getting this library built proudly demonstrates that my little village values knowledge and intellectual pursuits.

I myself am in a fortunate position to have some discretionary income, and the bulk of that income goes toward purchasing and filling bookshelves in virtually every room of my home. I stalk library sales, and add to my collection. I don’t get around to reading even half the books I own, but for a wannabe writer, I only feel comfortable and truly at home when I am surrounded by novels, poetry, and works of nonfiction.

There’s a saying, the more bad books I finish, the less good books I have time to start so I try to utilize my reading time to best effect. I follow the advice of the so-called experts, and try to “read actively,” underlining passages and making notes in the margin, writing down words on the first few pages to look up later. This kind of behavior is generally frowned upon by those dedicated librarians who work in what is definitely an underpaid profession. Playwright Joe Orton, famous for writing both “Loot” and “Entertaining Mr. Sloan,” went to jail for this very anti-social behavior, underlining and defacing library books, and I have no interest in following in his footsteps so I keep to marking up my own books rather than the library’s. Nevertheless, I do check out books occasionally, especially audio books to listen to on my way into the city for my classes.

Whether or not I check out as many books, CDs, or DVDs as my fellow villagers, I like having the option of going somewhere where “Everyone Knows My Name,” a place where I can hang out, bring a coffee and my laptop, and write or just listen for the echo of the voices of those writers who cry out for me to scour the shelves and find that one story that needs to be read or reread, listen for the voice of those long dead authors who seeks to speak again through the pages of their work.

We live in a hyper-convenient McSociety, but it’s reassuring in this small midwest town to have successfully built a library as a representation of those crucial values in a cultured, relevant society, the values of intellectual curiosity and a search for knowledge.

Advertisements