As shown in the fantastic children’s book I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, loved visiting public libraries. She “took to the library” because “on the shelves were stories of girls and women who did big things.” In 1940, when Ruth was growing up, “[B]oys were expected to grow up, go out in the world, and do big things. Girls? Girls were expected to find husbands”. But Ginsberg didn’t accept that short-sighted vision of what she was capable of. Time and time again, Ginsberg was told what she should and should not do: but she dissented on all accounts.
And thankfully so. Her initial public library education was revolutionary. Her strong and compassionate mother set an early example that women could, in fact, do anything that they set their minds to. Ginsberg learned at a young age what it felt like to be the recipient of discrimination. A young Jewish girl, she recalled a time when businesses would post signage that read “No Jews” and “Whites Only”. The pain and injustice of oppression profoundly changed her.
Ginsberg pursed social progress and social justice relentlessly. Despite efforts by her peers to diminish it, her inner strength shown brightly. She is and was true dynamo in every sense of the word: a Jewish Mother at the top of her class in law school working double-time to continue proving herself in a sexist society that viewed women as “timid”. She went on to fight for both men and women and to challenge the restrictive roles that were typical of the mid-century status quo.
For the reasons that Ginsberg was drawn to public libraries, I have always found them to be spaces of contemplation and possibility. I spent days browsing library shelves and anticipating of all of the wonderful new things I could discover because I was fortunate enough to be able to read . Literacy enables you to change or improve your life or the lives of others. We don’t celebrate this realization nearly enough. I brought home bags full of books, magazines, video, and music — and all for free. Today, I have the privilege of working in a library–a necessary and radical space for personal transformation available to anyone with a library card. I’m drawn to stories like the one told in I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark specifically because they feature people who refuse to have their humanity defined for them. I’m so proud that Davenport Public Library provides access to such wonderful and inspiring children’s books.
Physical and virtual library spaces are chalk-full of stories of underdogs and of every day people who do extraordinary things, and access to these stories is gloriously free. All you need is a library card, and that won’t cost you a cent.