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Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Pembroke Public Library


As the crow flies, Pembroke, Giles County, Virginia is about seven miles from West Virginia. If you've never been there, it's no surprise. Pembroke doesn't even get a dot on most maps, it's so small and so far removed from the world. And, like the rest of Appalachia, the people there make do ... because nobody is going to make do for them.

Pictured above is the Pembroke Public Library. I'd take you on a guided pictorial tour of the stacks inside but the library is closed on Fridays (I was there yesterday) and I wasn't able to get inside. My guess is the town is working with a rather tight budget. Can you tell?

I took this picture not to poke fun at my neighbors but to make two points that I think are worth making.

First, and most important, there is a public library in tiny Pembroke, Virginia. It may not look like much, but, by God, they've got a library for the inhabitants there.


A library connotes a desire on the part of (many?) locals to gain knowledge, which implies their collective desire to achieve. To prosper. To make for their children a life better than the one provided them by their ancestors. The American Dream.


This little library - in need of repair and another coat of white paint (how many layers of paint are lathered on those clapboards already?) - signifies to the local populace and to the outside world that Pembroke's young people are every bit as important as the offspring of the rich down in Palm Beach and those on the upper west side of Manhattan. The road to success may be a whole lot longer and more treacherous - figuratively and literally - (try driving Route 460 out of Pembroke through the mountains toward The Narrows in a driving snow storm) but the Pembroke Public Library is clear and convincing evidence that the road to success runs right through Giles County, Virginia.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that, in order for young people around here to succeed, they'll eventually need to pack their bags and move up north, like so many other area residents around here have done. There is little opportunity for them in Southwest Virginia and it's been decided by our political leadership that Giles and Wythe and Pulaski and Tazewell and Bland and Washington and Smyth Counties are to become nothing more than a
scenic tourist attraction and the natives to be entertainers made up in blackface, strumming banjos, and singing Old Black Joe for the tourists' amusement. Even Roanoke to the east offers little chance for success these days. (If you're going to click on this link, you'll need to scroll down to find Roanoke's ranking of 181st out of America's 200 largest metropolitan areas in terms of job creation and potential for economic growth, just ahead of Detroit.)

So it is that the children of Pembroke make their way to this library - one hopes - and learn. Learn to succeed. While on my journey over that way yesterday, I met a young man who was holding down a summer job, sweating in the noonday sun but not seeming to mind it. He's actually from a small town over on the West Virginia side and commutes to Pearisburg each day. He's a college student at West Virginia University way up in Morgantown. He had the demeanor of one who knows where he's headed. And its not back to southern West Virginia. He'll be moving on ... and moving up. Good luck to him.


My second point has less to do with the library itself and more to do with libraries in general and the state of technological advancement in the world today. Did you know that all the printed information currently being warehoused in the Library of Congress (10 terabytes) can be stored in Pembroke's tiny library? I guess in this regard, the people of Pembroke are ahead of their time. They knew it wasn't necessary to build a massive structure (pictured is the Library of Congress) to house hundreds of thousands of dead trees. They need only enough space to mount a Broadberry Data Systems 10 terabyte server and they're in business. How cool will it be when a resident of Pembroke can pull up to their library's drive-up window, order a copy of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, or a copy of the Budget of the United States Government, or today's edition of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, be handed a disposable CD, and drive off to work?

Life in these United States. Wonders to behold.

Click on library image to enlarge and appreciate.Posted by Hello Posted by Hello