Irish Book Giveaway — for the love of literature and literacy

You may not have known it but Monday was exactly half a year from St. Patrick’s Day. In honor of this not-quite occasion, a local group called Solas Nua handed out 7500 free books to passersby at Metro stops and libraries around the city making it, well, quite an occasion.

For inveterate readers, a free book is treasure and Irish literature is especially prized.

The mission of Solas Nua, which means new light, is “to give voice in America to contemporary Irish artists and writers.” Solas Nua volunteers have been distributing free Irish books on St. Patrick’s Day for seven years running. This year marked the first mid-year giveaway, christened “Another Craik at St. Patrick’s Day.”

An additional first time aspect of Monday’s book bonanza was an almost invisible focus on adult literacy. Some of the books handed out were part of the Open Book series, a publishing project by Gemma Books, which commissioned bestselling literary authors like Maeve Binchy and Roddy Doyle to write extremely short books that would entice reluctant readers and low-literate adults. The books are charming pocket sized editions designed in slightly larger-than-usual print, which appeals to struggling readers although it might not be noticed by good readers.

The reward that comes from opening one of these small packages, whatever your reading ability, is a great story that the most sophisticated readers will appreciate and that slower readers will be able to digest. The stories succeed marvelously in their intent not to condescend. The characterization is complex, the dialogue realistic, and the poetic power in full force.

If you didn’t get a book, you can check on what you missed at Solas Nua, and if you like what you see, you can check them out of the DC Public Library. The Adult Literacy Resource Center on the third floor of MLK has multiple copies to lend. Center Director Marcia Harrington embraced the book giveaway enthusiastically. Two of her personal passions — for literacy and for all things Irish – came together in the Solas Nua project.

If you did get a free book, you also got a bookmark that asks you to consider becoming a literacy tutor. If you are interested in finding out more, the Resource Center can help point you to a program that needs you, one  that suits your skills and your schedule.

If you love literature, don’t miss another Irish Book day. Sign up with Solas Nua be reminded. Don’t let another “craik” at a free book go by.

And light a candle in thanks for the presence among us of Dennis Houlihan, the head of Solas Nua’s board, who organizes this wonderfully “craik” event every year.  Thanks be to Dennis.

Two important events regarding the future of MLK Library

Wednesday September 19 at 6 PM
MLK Library, 901 G Street
The public is invited to attend a special Board of Library Trustees meeting featuring a presentation by architects and library experts about how make the District’s central library ” world-class.”  The program is part of what Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper has said will be a “continuing conversation” about the historic Mies van der Rohe designed building, now landmarked.

Thursday September 27 at 11 AM
Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, Room 500
Roundtable on the Future of the MLK Library
DC Council Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation, and Planning  The powers that be at DCPL do seem intent on bringing the city a smaller central library.  A Library press release last spring, announced the selection of an the architect of record for MLK, “The Freelon Group will explore how the building can be configured to share space with other tenants.”

Since then, however, Library Committee Chair Tommy Wells assured us he had asked that possibilities also be considered for keeping the entire building as a library.

If you are interested in the MLK Library, try to come out for one or both of the events above.  If you can’t, the Library and DC Council provide live and archived coverage. We will report about them here, too, so check back.

Heretofore, DCPL’s approach to library transformation has included only the most superficial type of community inclusion in planning, no different from other agency planning. Basically, the public is given a chance to see designs and make comments. There isn’t a lot of back and forth, although in some cases there have been a lot of meetings.  For a meeting to help resolve issues there has to be substantive discussion and the possibility of change must be real, otherwise why discuss?  Sometimes preliminary plans have already been approved by various official boards and commissions, before the public weighs in.  This was especially problematic in Mt. Pleasant where a much loved and much needed historic Carnegie Library was at stake.

DCPL’s Intergovernmental Affairs Head Archie Williams promised six years ago that the library would provide a “model process” for public involvement.  So far, DCPL has not.  After some sustained criticism in this vein, Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper herself eventually testified to the Library Committee that DCPL might have “overstated” the extent to which public comment would be acted upon.

DCPL has proven an adept learner (a good thing) in the course of this mostly hugely successful system transformation.  Promises by Chief Cooper about an ongoing “conversation” around MLK are the right thing to say.  But so was “model process.”  Let us hope we are hearing more than lip service this time and that there will be a true concerted effort to identify and respond to the public’s wishes regarding renewal of the District’s central library. It is, after all, the library for the whole city. Everyone’s ideas and expectations deserve genuine consideration before any plans have been set.