Back to the Future at the Library

by Bill Peak

We think of civilization as precious, don't we, a reality crucial to life as we know it? But here in America—where we have been so blessed—it is also easy to think of it as eternal, something passed effortlessly from generation to generation. Yet history teaches that we make such an assumption at our peril: absent tender loving care, civilization can vanish in an instant and a heretofore cultured people descend into savagery and chaos.

But how do we provide tender loving care to something so intangible?

Well, truth be told, examples abound. Thomas Cahill didn't title his book How the Irish Saved Civilization because some long-ago monks preserved and passed on gold to their successors; no, he called it that because-when everyone else in the Dark Ages was worrying about where their next meal was coming from—those monks were copying out the works of antiquity, reproducing and saving them for posterity. They were creating, in other words, libraries.

And now our community has joined the long line of people who put learning before lucre, books before treasure. At a time when money is tight and the economy struggling, we haven't said it's every man for himself and hunkered down to hoard our wealth. No, we have shown faith in ourselves, our children, and our neighbors' children. We have built a library.

The new Easton library offers much to excite and please the senses. The place has grown by 10,000 square feet, becoming light, airy, inviting. There's a new, separate children's wing, opening onto an equally new and beautiful children's garden. The Maryland Room is bigger and better and now meets state-of-the-art standards for archival storage. Where before there was only one meeting room available for public use, now there are two; and the number of public computers has increased from 12 to 40. Special rooms have been set aside for the exclusive use of those who need a quiet place to read and study. And hidden in the earth beneath it all, a system of geothermal wells makes the building's heating and cooling systems run smoothly at greatly reduced cost.

But the new library is also something of a return to the past. Just as civilization takes the best of antiquity, refining and expanding upon it before passing it on to the next generation, so we have taken the best elements of our past—our old building's central location, its rosy brick façade its slate roof — and refined and expanded upon them to create something at once both brand spanking new and comfortingly familiar. The library's return to 100 West Dover Street is truly a case of ... “back to the future all over again.”

But the new library is more than that too. It is a statement of who we are in this community, what we believe in and where we are going. Talbot County's candlepower just rose a notch or two, and all our futures look that much brighter.