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

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.

Story continues below the gallery


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.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Politics

Just In