In 1778, a community in Massachusetts incorporated itself into a town called Franklin, after Benjamin Franklin. Seven years later, the leaders of Franklin, Massachusetts contacted their namesake. Pointing out how they had honored him, they asked if he would buy a bell for their meeting house. Instead, Benjamin Franklin sent a crate of 116 books from his personal collection and asked them to build a library instead, “Sense being preferable to sound.” The town leaders took his advice and created the first public library in America. It’s still open, with Benjamin Franklin’s original 116 books on display.
America was founded on the idea that, after a full stomach, the thing a person needs most is a hungry mind. Their curiosity and intelligence and drive should determine how far they go in life, not money, luck, or social status.
That idea is part of why I’m proud to work with Guys’ Lit Wire–a book blog aimed at teenage boys–and its annual book fair. During past book fairs, GLW readers bought books for Indian reservation schools and a juvenile detention facility. This year, we’re helping out Ballou Senior High School, a seriously underfunded school in Washington D.C.
As this video shows, Ballou High’s library is tiny, just a 1150 books for a student body of 1200. (For comparison, the American Library Association’s standard is eleven books for every one student.) Working with Ballou High’s librarian, we’ve assembled a 900-book wish list at Powells.com. Anybody can purchase a book (or more than one) and have it sent directly to the school at:
Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
The wishlist runs a wide gamut, from Shakespeare and manga to non-fiction books about science and nutrition to SAT prep books. There are several wonderful GLBT titles including Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club, Steve Berman’s Vintage, and It Gets Better by Dan Savage and Terry Miller. And every single one of them has the potential to be that one book a kid at Ballou High has been waiting for, the one that will help him understand who he is and what he wants out of life. Books change lives. They alter attitudes and expectations.
That’s why, 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin decided the town of Franklin needed books more than a bell. America was a young nation and democracy an untried experiment. To succeed, we needed dreamers. We needed people who could imagine a new kind of nation. Every generation since has struggled and strived toward a more perfect union and a more just society. We will always need dreamers, we will always need books, and every revolution–great or small–will start in a library.
If you can, please consider buying a book or two for Ballou High. There is no gift you can give someone as awesome as a book. Books reshape us, and they give us the power to reshape the world around us.