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Monday, December 09, 2019

Read A Book, Change A Life

It’s hotter than Dante’s nine rings of hell outside.

Crank up the fans, and pass the pile of books.

Most of us have triggers for childhood memories. These dog days of summer do it for me.

During the precious weeks of summer vacation, I’d pedal my bike back and forth to the library in a continuous cycle of return and borrow. I can still see skinny 10-year-old me, left foot dangling over the back of the porch swing, right foot pushing against the dusty floorboards as I floated in midair, immersed in the adventures of other people’s lives.

An early love for books changes the trajectory of lives. My own kids spent as much time in bookstores as in libraries. In my leanest years as a single mother, I never said no to a book for my son or daughter.

Sad news this week: Another national bookstore chain has failed.

Borders Group is going out of business. All 399 stores will close. In the dead of summer, too.

About 10,700 employees will lose their jobs. I’ve come to know dozens of them in Ohio over the years. To a person, they were smart and kind and full of big ideas. What a loss to the communities they served.

“We were all working hard towards a different outcome,” Borders President Mike Edwards said, “but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly
changing book industry, e-reader revolution and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now.”

Borders has been in trouble for a while. It closed 200 stores in February as part of its bankruptcy restructuring.

That same month, Publishers Weekly reported that the bookstore chain owed $41 million to Penguin Group, $36.9 million to Hachette, $33.8 million to Simon & Schuster, $33.5 million to Random House and $25.8 million to HarperCollins.

Still, a lot of us refused to see this collapse coming.

Others, such as Sari Feldman, already are brainstorming ways to fill the void.

“I’m crushed for the reading community,” Feldman said Tuesday. “Borders was a place for a lot of readers to congregate. I hope they’ll find another place.”

She has a suggestion: How about your local library?

Feldman is past president of the national Public Library Association and executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio. She’s been tracking the setbacks and innovations of public libraries across the country for years. Despite budget cuts, many library systems are becoming increasingly creative, she says, and returning to their roots as the go-to place for readers.

“We don’t see bookstores as competitors,” Feldman said. “They’re important in keeping people aware and enthusiastic about books. But libraries are reclaiming our core value, which is promoting books to our readers.

“We should always be at the ready to help them find their next great read.”

Public libraries always have been at the forefront of child literacy, but they also are looking for new ways to reach adults, too. Earlier this year, Feldman borrowed an idea from Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore., and started a Facebook “Night Owls” book discussion. It convenes on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Last week’s discussion logged 85 comments.

“We have 28 branches,” she said. “Last year, 7.6 million people walked through our doors. We have lots of book groups, but some readers want to talk about books at night, from home. We did this to include them, too.”

Feldman laughed when I suggested that most of us remember the library as a place where people read but never chat.

“Libraries are not the quiet sanctuaries they used to be,” she said. “We have to set aside quiet spaces in our buildings these days. We welcome the civic engagement.”

When citizens read, their communities prosper.

“People who read are voters,” Feldman said. “They patronize museums and theaters. They’re more likely to volunteer.”

They’re also more inclined to pass on their love of reading to the next generation.

Forecasters are predicting no break soon in the heat and humidity.

What perfect weather for children to curl around books and hitch a ride.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. To find out more about Connie Schultz ( and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



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