Ronald Reagan's Letter to the Library, and Other Finds From 1971

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The city of Troy, Michigan, unearths a cache of letters from the political and intellectual stars of more than 40 years ago

Forty years ago this month, the city of Troy, Michigan, opened its first permanent public library building.

The library had been founded in the early 1960s as a 1,000 book collection housed in a high school, but took up a peripatetic existence as it expanded and needed space to accommodate its growing inventory. Ten years after its founding, the nomadic institution owned over 20,000 books, but still had no place to call home. In 1970, the city commission finally voted to fund construction of a permanent edifice.

With the institution's growth came the need for more staff, and the hiring of its first children's librarian, Marguerite Hart. As Hart prepared for the opening of the new building and her new role, she wrote to dozens of actors, authors, artists, musicians, playwrights, librarians, and politicians, inviting each to write a letter explaining the importance of libraries, and their memories of reading and of books.

She received 97 replies in 1971 from famous authors, artists, politicians, actors, and journalists -- including letters from The White House, the Vatican and Ronald Reagan, then governor of California. Below, we've selected highlights from the collection.

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The letters act as a time capsule, capturing the cultural and political landscape of the time. Yet they also have a timeless quality. In Spiro Agnew's note he explains the utility and importance of reading, especially in the "age of television and radio":

Young people like yourselves, born in the age of television and radio, will still find an ability to read one of the most useful tools you can acquire both for perceiving the world around you and for learning the lessons of the past.

Nowadays young people have far more distractions and resources, but ultimately, the dated advice of such political leaders still holds true for today's youth. The letters may come from the stars of yesteryear, but the lessons on their pages are classic.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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