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Grim headlines not enough to silence ‘beauty and wit’

Recently, I ran across an article which briefly recounted how and why Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to the federal government when most of our national collection was destroyed by the British during the war of 1812.

Jefferson suggested that any attempt to rebuild a national library during wartime conditions would be near-impossible, while he was living his golden years and would not be able to enjoy his library much longer. The article claimed Congress was, unsurprisingly, split in its decision on whether or not to take Jefferson up on his offer.

According to, a site linked with Jefferson’s estate, the members of Congress who stood against the purchase did not have any issue with the sale itself but felt some of the books promoted an “infidel philosophy” and were not appropriate for American readers in part because they addressed hard topics and were not all written in English. Ultimately, the sale was narrowly approved and when the books were finally transferred to D.C. in February, 1815, Jefferson included the bookcases and clear instructions on how the books were to be shelved so as to remain a collection.

Over 210 years later, libraries across the nation have auxiliary groups which regularly sell surplus and discarded titles for a small profit alongside books donated solely for that purpose, while school libraries simply put outdated books out to intellectual pasture. One of my children brought home a pile of discards last week, an armful of treasures she snatched up from the school library discards with a poetry book among them. The writers inside the discarded book are recognizable: Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Lewis Carroll and Emily Dickinson, among others. Louis Untermeyer, the poet behind the not-anthology describes it in his introduction as “a talking book” and emphasizes the importance of literature.

“It is more important than ever to know that beauty and wit and feeling have not been silenced by the despair and violence of the moment,” Untermeyer wrote in the 1941 introduction.

Untermeyer would likely approve of someone salvaging the discarded book in a world where the evening news flashes images of the Half Moon Bay shooting or where police officers are on trial for murdering a citizen they swore to protect and defend.

Articles on transgender health care bills can be found alongside updates on which football teams are going to the Super Bowl. Surely, a scruffy kid in a letterman jacket scooping up a book of poetry destined for a modern landfill confirms feeling triumphs over violence.

The poems Untermeyer gathered are nothing like Amanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’ and Jefferson likely never envisioned a young, Black girl reading poetry at a 2021 presidential inauguration. Yet his claim “I cannot live without books” is upheld every day when school librarians quietly let a teen girl take home discarded books, when friends groups sit watch over their inexpensive treasures housed in libraries across the nation. And, if what we do speak volumes then Jefferson’s reaction to shipping his own books off to Congress is a loud call to action: upon completing the sale with Congress, he began almost immediately to rebuild his own collection.

This month, local libraries are showing their love for, as Untermeyer said, beauty and wit and feeling along with more modern considerations with a plethora of events planned for February:

• Stop by the El Cajon library from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to buy a Bag o’ Books for sale. Fill up a bag with as many books as possible for only $2. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the El Cajon Library.

• Kids in grades 1-3 can join the Beginning Readers Circle from 3:30 to 4:30 on Thursdays at the El Cajon library.

• Parents and caregivers can join in songs, fingerplays, and stories for babies under 18 months. Geared toward pre-walkers, this group meets Fridays, 10:30 to 11 a.m. at the El Cajon library.

• Teens ages 14-17 are invited to the El Cajon library from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 5 for a service learning orientation. Students who need hours for school requirements, college applications, or work experience, or who want to make a difference in their community are encouraged to register.

• The El Cajon library also offers recurring and regular meetups where LGBTQ+ teens, ages 12-17 can socialize in a safe space every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

• Adults can get free help with learning how to use a computer from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday at the El Cajon library.

• The El Cajon library also offers weekly English as a Second Language classes. See a staff member for more information.

• The El Cajon library welcomes adults with disabilities and their caregivers to make crafts, play games, explore the library, and enjoy music, storytimes, guest speakers, and more on the second and fourth Monday of every month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

• An expert librarian is available every first and third Tuesday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the El Cajon library to assist with navigating the library’s free online resources including the Libby and SDCL mobile apps. No appointment is necessary, see a librarian for more information.

•Representatives from the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs will be at the El Cajon library on Feb. 10 from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to provide support services to military, veterans, survivors, and dependents. Services range from benefits counseling, to transition assistance and information on home loans, educational benefits and more.

• The Lemon Grove library is showing a three-part film series looking at America’s vanishing, indigenous craftsmen and changing work patterns as mass production supplanted the traditional skills of individual workers. The first film is scheduled for Feb. 4 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

• The Lemon Grove library will also be showing an afterschool movie every Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m.

• The Slime Club will be meeting at the Lemon Grove library from 3 to 5 p.m. on Feb. 9 All supplies are provided.

•Game Day is happening from 3 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the Lemon Grove library— stop by to play video games, card games and board games.

• Young children are also welcome every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. for songs, stories and fun at the Lemon Grove library.

• Heaven’s Windows will be providing snacks and light meals every day from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the Lemon Grove library, free for anyone 18 years or younger while supplies last.

• Ready to see who’s got great reflexes? Join other high schoolers for free laser tag at the Santee library on Feb. 11 from 6 to 7 p.m. Permission slip required.

• Love Your Heart is hosting free blood pressure screenings Feb. 13-18 at the Santee library with no appointment needed for the self-service machines. Visit for more information.

• The Santee library offers toddler storytime from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Thursday with stories, songs, playtime and fun for the littlest readers.

• They also offer preschool storytime from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Friday with a focus on building early reading skills, learning to follow directions, and enjoying social time.

• Families are invited to wear their comfiest pajamas for PJ Storytime happening from 6-6:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Santee library. Best for families with children ages 4-8.

• Join the Lego Construction club at the La Mesa library every Monday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Builders can construct whatever they want, or take on a weekly building challenge. All ages welcome but younger children must be accompanied by an adult.

• Need help with the internet, email, Microsoft or library ebooks? Drop-in tech help is available every Tuesday from 2 to 3 p.m. at the La Mesa library.

• A math coach is regularly available from 4 to 6 p.m. at the La Mesa library. Kindergarteners through 12th graders can get one-on-one help from a skilled volunteer tutor. Call or stop by to make an appointment.

• Write Out Loud San Diego actor Walter Ritter will read short stories and poems aloud from 1 to 2 p.m. on Feb. 9 at the La Mesa library.

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Source: East County Californian

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