In the forty-plus years I have been associated with libraries, I thought I had seen and heard all there was concerning the value of books. An article in the February 4, 2004 Washington Post proved how mistaken I was. The Post reported that the Mexico City subway authority has begun an unusual experiment involving books and readership. It has placed free lending libraries in two dozen of its busiest stations. As commuters gather to catch their trains they can select a book, take it with them to read during the commute, and return it when they reach their destination, or take it with them to finish at home. The subway authority has several objectives in mind. Foremost is to promote reading and, perhaps, elevate the cultural level of Mexico City’s Metro customers. But even more interesting is the premise that books and reading will reduce crime in the subways and, as a Metro spokesman said, “change attitudes and help people get along better.”
Whether books will make Mexico City’s subways a kinder, safer, and gentler place remains to be seen. I am confident, however, that books can and do change the way people think and act toward others.
This exhibit, now in its fourth year, offers abundant testimony that books have the power to change people’s lives for the better. It is also evident that there is not a specific type of book that needs to be read for inspiration. We have seen fiction, biography, autobiography, psychology, art, history, technical treatises, music, philosophy, and poetry cited as examples of inspirational reading year after year. We also have seen a wide variety in the nationality of authors and the publication dates of books recommended. This tells me that nearly all books hold the potential to inspire someone, and that it is really the ability and desire to read that makes the difference. Promoting that desire and ability are motivating factors for the University Libraries and the Athletics Department to serve as co-presenters for this annual exhibit. It is our hope that the exhibit may, in some way, encourage its viewers to read not only the books recommended, but others as well.
I am especially grateful for the Athletics Department’s partnership with the University Libraries. I also appreciate greatly the support of each of the exhibit sponsors. It is their generous contributions that defray the costs of presenting the exhibit, printing the posters and publishing the accompanying booklet. Most of all, I thank the contributors who have shared the insights and feelings about the books that have influenced them. After reading this year’s essays I cannot help but believe that the administrators of Mexico City’s subway systems have inaugurated a plan with great potential. I am confident that some of the books read on the daily commute will inspire their readers to new goals and better lives. That is the gift of books to readers.
Sul H. Lee
Dean, University Libraries
The University of Oklahoma