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Al Martinez's speech at Topanga Library's Grand Opening

Al Martinez

Welcome to the world of Once Upon a Time.

That’s what our new library is, you know. This isn’t just an impressive edifice of stone and steel. It’s a house of knowledge and imagination, a trip to new worlds, a journey to the mystical land of tomorrow.

And it isn’t just for us. It’s for my year-old granddaughter GracieAnn and for her grandchildren, and her grandchildren’s grandchildren.

A library is a compendium of research beyond Google and Wikipedia, although it encompasses them too. It’s a simultaneous look at history and the future, a traditional place to view the wonders and weigh the disasters of humanity.

That’s why it’s here. That’s why we wanted it.

I wondered when they asked me to say something today what the point was of my presence. Others, not me, worked to see this place exist. Visionaries and volunteers hounded the bureaucrats to get it done.  I wasn’t among them.

But then I received an e-mail from my good friend Topanga Maggie and realized that I was here today to answer her question.

She wanted to know why so much money was being spent on a building when it could have been used to feed the hungry. She is one of those caring, articulate people in our canyon who ask questions and demand answers. Why. How come. Who says.

It’s this way, Maggie. Creating a library and feeding the hungry are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to do both. There is a need to work on behalf of those in our community and beyond who lack the necessities of life, mainly food and housing. But there is also a need to feed the mind, the spirit and the imagination.

I was raised in the 1930s during the so-called Great Depression in a family without work, without money, and without hope, barely housed and often not fed. I was one of the hungry.

 I found solace in a library not far from where I lived that offered not only books but toys we could borrow and take home as long as we also took a book. It was the books that changed my life. I lost myself in them and merged into the worlds they created. I soon found myself less concerned with a wagon I had borrowed and more interested in the books.

They fired my imagination and took me to places I would not have otherwise gone. I met heroes and villains and was privy to great events. I found words I never knew, the ones circling my head each morning today, and began the long trek to what I was to become.

A library did that.

A library, with its thousands of books, fills a need beyond a more basic one. Books feed the soul and the heart and the mind and the imagination. Without books we would be less than we are, bereft at the intersection of mind and body without a human history. We need books to grow, to expand, to chart a higher destiny, and this repository of books and dreams fills that need.

In Topanga we understand the importance of that place beyond the horizon that is the future. That’s why we fight to save parks, to keep the open lands and to prevent the inroads of those who want to desecrate the green hills with housing tracts and country clubs.

We also need the journeys that Once Upon a Time provides.

Toward that end, I for one welcome this edifice, this symbol, this need, into our community as sustenance for our intellectual and emotional selves. Come on in and take a bite.

Given January 21, 2012