Library project a worthy cause

August 31, 2010

Long before the advent of radio, television or, heaven help us, the Internet, great thinkers would gather in salons and coffee shops to discuss the day's events, be they political, cultural or sporting.

They were the bloggers of their day, with a couple of important exceptions - for one, when talking with one's fellows face to face, there would come a time when the speaker would have to stop and listen. And learn.

The concept of listening, reformulating one's thoughts and rebutting - the idea behind the debate - has been washed away in a tide of digital backwash, in which all communication becomes one-way.

We can shout back at the television set, but it is small comfort. So we sit at our computers, generating thoughts that have never been challenged or tested and send them out to an audience that will in all likelihood never read them. Chat rooms and comment boards are awkward at best and dishonest at worst and about what you would expect from a subgroup of people who have nothing better to do at 2 o'clock in the morning.


When the Washington County Free Library says it wants to recapture "The Great Good Place," per a story by Henry James, it might be on to something. As amazing and admittedly beneficial as the computer age has been, we expect there eventually will be an electronic backlash as people long for honest-to-goodness human contact and a habitat for honest learning.

The library will be farming out its operations in the near future, as it closes its central branch on South Potomac Street for major renovations. When it reopens two years hence, it will be a wonderful hub of learning, a home for people of all ages, all social classes and all dispositions.

It will encourage familiarity for socializing, yet respect the privacy of scholars - and meet the needs of everyone in between. It will be outfitted with the latest electronics, but it also will be dedicated to the proposition that the obituary of the book has been written prematurely.

In short, it will be a place to go to discover friends we didn't know we had - both in person and on the printed page.

As the library closes in on its goals, it is important to remember that these worthwhile ideals have a cost - and we should be willing to pay for so great a service. With $21 million of the overall $24 million renovation funded by government grants, there still is a gap that needs to be filled.

Last week, officials announced that the new, improved library will be named after the late Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher, whose foundation donated $1 million to the cause.

We join the library in thanking the foundation, as well as all others who have given money. Those other donations have raised about half of the needed $3 million, so there is still about $1.5 million that's needed.

We would urge readers to contribute to the extent that they are able, remembering that a library's benefits extend beyond its walls. It is no coincidence that a common thread among thriving cities across the nation is a good library at the heart of the community. As an incubator for thought, there is no other facility that can so move a community forward.

As we are improving our library, we are improving our minds. And there can be no more worthy a goal.

To make a contribution

On the web: The main library website is or you can go directly to

By mail: Contributions also can be made by mailing a check to Washington County Free Library, ATTN: Capital Campaign, 100 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown, MD 21740

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