I can't begin to explain how reading has enriched my life. I live in a small fishing village called Lancaster, 200 miles northeast of Anchorage, Alaska. It's strictly a fishing and mining town with a year-long population of 424. We're a loyal, self-sufficent group, and count among our ranks five teachers, an architecht, two medical doctors and a dentist. Unfortunately, we are over three hours from the nearest city, limiting our access to most cultural events, athletics and other typical extracuricular actiivites.
That's where reading comes in. My local forefathers were an industrious bunch, who savored their independence yet acknowledged the need to augment the town's resources. I share their perspective about Lancaster being a mixed blessing. We have peace and serenity in our isolation, but we otherwise lack essential stimulation from the "lower 49". In 1977, a small group of locals, including my newly married parents, solicited funds from our county seat in Anchorage to finance the first local library.
They negotiated a lease for a 400 square foot trailer on the northeast corner of our town square. Since June of 1978, 223 Main Street has been our local library and it's my favorite place in the world.
The library has only one paid employee and operates strictly with volunteers. I've worked there for free since I was fourteen, carding books, organizing shelves and serving patrons. My greatest achievement has been reading nearly every book we have. Through the power of literature, l feel that I've visited and experienced places far away from rural Lancaster. I began at age six with the Nancy Drew mystery series. I was amazed at her cunning and skill and her ability to reason her way out of any situation. By age ten I had progressed to the Alice Dywer series that chronicles a family's journey across Europe during the World Wars. The stories moved me beyond belief, magically bringing to life the history lessons I was taking in school. While my classes required me to memorize dates, names and battles, the Dwyer books introduced a human perspective to the events, and made me consider the devastating effects of each battle on the people who lived there. They also gave me a new respect for our soldiers who fought in the war.
Since my freshman year in high school, I have been thoroughly enraptured by Shakespeare. While I found his style intimidating at first, I have come to love his eloquent prose. I also marvel at how classic his work is. How many other authors produced characters and stories so universal in appeal that we remember them after more than two centuries? Who else but Shakespeare could redefine our language, introducing new words, phrases and cliches? My life would have a terrible void without his work.
Sadly, state funding is limited and we are always faced with the challenge of fighting for our library. This past year, I assumed a more administrative role and added fundraising to my list of achievements. I solicited donations from townspeople and conducted used book drives in three surrounding towns. I also developed an inter-library loan program in the county, increasing our access to previously unavailable titles. I appreciate how reading has broadened my life, and I want the younger children in town to reap that benefit as well.
I can't imagine the excitement I'll feel when I first visit Harvard's libraries. I am awestruck by the possiblility of having access to over a million titles in hundreds of disciplines. I know firsthand the power of the written word to transform lives. It has greatly broadened mine. It's given me the confidence to leave Lancaster, knowing that I am as educated and well-versed in cultural and world events as someone in Paris. As long as I can read, I can travel anywhere, learn anything and enjoy the wisdom of brilliant authors throughout history. Whenever I have spare time, you can find me at the library.