Haunted by Libraries

Manhattan is history. A block from where I stood was the Plaza Hotel--Saturday brunches, red-jacketed doormen, and Eloise. Due North stood Central Park. Walking west on 56th Street, I was fortunate to be heading toward AMERICA House for a visit.

Once inside, a great tradition welcomes you. A framed letter from Archbishop Romero of El Salvadore is translated into Spanish from English, and the smiling portrait of the soon-to-be martyr seems incongruent with his bloody fate.


Landmark issues of AMERICA magazine line the hallways, each a window into the past. The Vatican II issue caught my eye, and so did letters from Presidents Reagan and Truman. To absorb everything, let alone see everything, would require more time than a casual visit allows.

Libraries fascinate me. If a person or group has a well-stocked library, you can peer into the heart or even tough the soul. I felt present to 110 years in the life of AMERICA magazine, the events shaping its stories, and even the stories that helped shape events.

Scanning bound volumes of various decades, I discovered design changes. The volumes of the first decades of the 20th century were stamped in small type, size 9 or 10, I think. Several decades later small advertisements appeared, and the print/graphics layout evolved into the visually appealing and award-winning format we have today. An editorial in the 1940s bemoaned the increasing use of photos in the media--this was leading toward the loss of complex, sequential, and rational thinking, the writer opined. Time, Life, and Newsweek became successes soon afterward, but what do you think of the editorial question?

Exactly a century ago--the week of August 10, 1910--a national debate occurred (as reported in AMERICA), about whether or not a statue of General Robert E. Lee, in his Confederate general's uniform--should be displayed in the Capital in Washington, D.C. Many argued that this was unrealistic and inappropriate, as 45 years was not long enough to heal the devastating wounds from the Civil War. Others argued that it was "magnanimous" for the nation to allow the statue to be erected. What would your view have been?

Recently I viewed the movie "The Book of Eli," and saw it twice so I could understand its full meaning. Across a devastated American landscape of the future, Denzel Washington carries one book to restore civilization. His destination: a library.

Someday I hope for another invitation to examine and enjoy the AMERICA House library. There is an emergent and exponential quality, yes, let's call it Teilhardian, that can't be grasped by reading individual books or volumes of magazines. I'd love to see a century of the field of psychology through the prism of AMERICA's writers and editors.

To rephrase Norman MacLean, "I am haunted by libraries."

William Van Ornum


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8 years 7 months ago
For me it was The Fantastic Four, Superman, Thor, and especially Conan the Barbarian  :)
we vnornm
8 years 7 months ago
Fortunately I live in both worlds, but it is harder and harder to get a new hardback book that is "packed" and requires lots of concentration. When I browse through the two large bookstores, many books seem to have large type, lots of white space, and thick cheap paper.

Bought a used book at the library sale for one dollar yesterday..it is 50 years old and will last another fifty, and has lots of info still current.

8 years 7 months ago
'An editorial in the 1940s bemoaned the increasing use of photos in the media-this was leading toward the loss of complex, sequential, and rational thinking, the writer opined. Time, Life, and Newsweek became successes soon afterward, but what do you think of the editorial question?'

But a picture is worth 1,000 words!  Think of what was expressed in illustrated manuscripts.  I grew up on comic books and I still seem to be able to think rationally  :)   I like libraries too - imagine what the library at Alexandria must have been like.
8 years 7 months ago
I, too, am haunted by libraries.  As long as I can remember I've loved books and I've loved libraries.  My family name is : Nose in the Book.  I devoured the books in our parochial school library and many in our public library located across the street from our home.  There among others, I read "Les Miserables" which was on the Index and "Kristin Lavransdatter" to impress the nuns at the college I was to attend!  "Kristin" is my all time favorite book and the source of my daughter's name.

There is a problem with this passion.  When others know about your love of reading, you are given books, lots of books.  My children also read, especially books on sports.  As a result, our small townhouse is overflowing with books and magazines.  Recently, I took 2 plastic crates of books (classics and Catholic classics) to a new Catholic hiigh school , Mater Dei, in the South County in the naive belief that students will read them! The librarian gave me a tour of the library-large , well-lit and with many empty book shelves.  It is also adapted for computer use. of course.

Lots of discussion about the coming end of printed books.  Kindles, I-pads , internet all replacing the need for them.  I hope this doesn't happen.  There is something very enjoyable about holding a printed work in one's hands.    In San Diego, ground was recently broken for a new main library downtown.  One floor will be used by the school district for a magnet school.  A creative way to get extra funding and a boon to students lucky enough to attend this school. 

A survey of America's publications on psychology sounds like, hmmm, a book to be written!!

Crystal, I also read comic books.  Trading comic books was a big social event and if I had a few of them now, I'd be rich!

we vnornm
8 years 7 months ago
Crystal and Janice,

I loved the Superman, Batman, as well as Archie, Betty and Veronica, and good ol' Jughead.

I remember when giant issues would come out-I think for 50 cents.



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