Guest column/Take the time to make a blind date with a book

Read any good books lately? Through our library’s witty “Blind Date With A Book” program, synchronized with Valentine’s Day, I made a blind date with “a lovely, shapely, provocative book.” And my wife, Mena, didn’t even object!

Here’s how that eventuated. I had walked into Schiappa branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County to return five books and pick up 10 others I had requested from interlibrary loan. As a voracious reader, I have had many “blind dates,” enjoyable “literary romances” and a few “notorious library affairs” with books.

I freely admit to my recent “library affair” and want to tell you more about our library’s clever effort to augment a broader readership. But first I want to discuss the invaluable services and incalculable resources our local libraries freely provide, all of which are capable of altering the trajectory and fortune of our lives.

Libraries provide a vast reservoir of rich and enriching resources, the magnitude and dimension of which inebriate the mind.

Our library’s interlibrary loan program reaches across the country, around the world and into the Library of Congress in Washington. The LOC — which houses the largest library in the world as well as the copyright office — is our country’s national library.

Staggeringly, the LOC contains more than 144 million items; more than 33 million books in 460 languages; more than 63 million manuscripts, the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound.

The collective libraries of our great nation totally eclipse all other libraries of all other countries in all other regions of our solar system. Our libraries offer an astounding and invaluable “self-help and personal-development” reservoir to better our life and, of overarching importance, their inventory is freely available to us.

A widely unknown and underappreciated fact is that America created libraries. “The public library founded in 1848 in America is an exclusive American invention,” according to William James Sidis. Sidis, an intellectual of the highest order born in Manhattan in 1898, was a child prodigy possessed of brilliant linguistic skills. He could read the New York Times at age 2, speak eight languages at age 6 and entered Harvard University at age 11, the school’s youngest student. Sidis had the highest IQ in the world, “50 to 100 times greater than Albert Einstein” it’s said.

From its founding in 1848, the literary armamentaria of American’s library system has grown to more than 6.1 million books, which speaks eloquently of the value our country places on literature and reading. City libraries across our country contain a cornucopia of unimaginable intellectual-enrichment.

The library system in Manhattan, for example, our nation’s (perhaps the world’s) “most sophisticated city” –where we had a residence for 17 years — consists of 46 libraries, including the Library for The Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. It contains 53 million items, and is the second largest library in the United States and fourth largest in the world.

Patronizing libraries and reading liberally does more than broaden our knowledge. Scientific studies demonstrate that “children trained to use library facilities are better adjusted and academically superior to those who have not been trained.” The studies have also found that “active library involvement from an early age parallels with successful achievement later in life.”

Reading is a healthy literary elixir, enabling us to experience vicariously what is not otherwise available. It increases our expressional vocabulary, conditions us to use language more effectively, guides us to higher levels of functioning, instills us with noble ideals and enables us to become more confident, comfortable and adroit in our engagements, intercourse and interactions with others. Reading, therefore, can, as said earlier, “alter and enhance the trajectory of our lives and our fortune.”

So when I walked into Schiappa Library to return and pick up books I had requested, I later walked out with “a blind date” with one of their books. As I was waiting to be checked out, I noticed an array of attractive, colorful red bags with Valentine decorations smiling out at me.

They were sitting on shelves behind the checkout counter, tauntingly and sensuously beseeching my attention. Each bag contained a mysterious and inscrutable book. The bag was sealed to conceal the identity of its furtive occupant.

There was also a flier the library had prepared that clamored out and goaded me, “Broaden your horizons (doofus)! Go on an adventure! Discover something new! Fall in love on a “BLIND DATE WITH A BOOK! Don’t worry if you don’t like the book. Return it. The book’s feelings won’t be hurt. Just read!”

What a witty and ingenious way to motivate readership. The title of the book in my bag was “One Act Comedies of Moliere,” a vivacious, effervescent, humorous and entertaining odyssey. I discovered from Moliere’s satirical work that the same social imbroglios, faux pas, gaffes and blunders that existed in France in the 1600s of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere’s real name) are still prevalent today.

Blind Date has ended, but we can still go to the library, check out a book and enjoy “a blind date.”

The promotion was a collaborative effort by the staffs of all the Jefferson County public library branches. Staff members at various branches selected books they believed would be of interest.

Ralph Parise, manager at the Schiappa branch, selected the books that were put into bags at that branch. Jennifer Cesta, the system’s public relations director, provided the bags and descriptive fliers for the program. Kudos to all the library staffs at all the branches. We commend you.

(Potts is a resident of Steubenville.)