The impact of a library

Field Notes from Cumberland County with Sara Jewell

Published on March 15, 2017

Field Notes from Cumberland County with Sara Jewell

There is a photograph making the rounds on the Internet entitled “Impact of a Book.” The photo shows a massive brick wall with a bit of a hitch in the middle of it, directly above where a book lies on the ground, interrupting the flow of bricks.

It’s actually an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake called “Il Castillo/The Castle,” named for the Franz Kafka book at the bottom of the wall of bricks but you can see why writers and librarians love it for illustrating the impact of a single book.

A single book can disrupt the flow. It can alter linear thinking. It can break down barriers.

A single book can open the mind and stimulate the heart.

A single book can launch a career.

When I was a kid in Ontario in the mid-70s, the town library was less than a block from my home. The children’s library was completely separate from the adult library, and I spent hours there, wandering between tall book shelves, reading titles, and exploring stories.

One afternoon, after stocking up on books to take to the cottage, I hopped into the front seat of our car, and my mother glanced down at the pile of books on my lap.

On top was a non-fiction book titled, How To Cope With An Alcoholic Parent.

 “What? Why do you have that book?” my mother squawked. “I’ll never be able to show my face in the children’s library again.”

I didn’t choose that book because I had concerns about my parents but because I was captivated by the personal stories that were inside the book. With no interest in the self-help narrative, I read the first-person accounts of people who were living with an alcoholic parent.

I believe that book, and that well-stocked children’s library, started me, at the age of nine, on my path as a writer who tells personal stories, whether my own or others’.

If one book can have that kind of impact, what would be the impact of losing all books?

Last month, Cumberland Public Libraries (CPL) announced it has reached the point of desperation; costs keep rising but funds from the government have remained the same for almost a decade. The CPL is making deep cuts to services, and could close one of its seven branches. Already, a full-time staff position is being eliminated.

What is a library without services? And what is a community without a library?

The first library existed in 300 BC, and the oldest, still-running library (the National Library of France) is almost 650 years old. Libraries have endured for thousands of years for one reason: they play an essential role in human development by providing knowledge, social interaction, and inspiration.

The solution is not to start charging for services – libraries must remain free – but for our provincial government to adequately fund a system that has existed since humans first put chisel to tablet.

A quarter of Cumberland County residents have a library card. In honour of CPL’s 50th birthday in 2017, let’s raise that to 50 per cent. By signing up for a free library card, you will show the government that Cumberland County residents appreciate the impact of a book.

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Sara Jewell is a freelance writer who lives near Port Howe. Visit her website at