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In Praise of Libraries and Librarians by Mark Reedman

Ray Bradbury typed his classic novel Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of his local library on a typewriter rented from the library at ten cents per half hour. Published in 1953, the novel imagines a future society that outlaws and burns books. Here’s my version of Bradbury renting a typewriter.

Jane: Morning Ray.
Ray: Morning Jane.
Jane: Here to do some research?
Ray: And to write a new book.
Jane: In the library?
Ray: Home’s a bit noisy and I can’t afford an office. I believe you rent typewriters.
Jane: We have a typing room where you can rent a typewriter for ten cents per half hour.
Ray: Yes. I’ve got a bag of dimes.
Jane: We only rent by the half hour. That’s all most people need. To fill out a form, write a letter.
Ray: How about I leave them here and you just take one out every half hour?
Jane: It’s a little unusual but I suppose I can make an exception in your case. The typing room’s in the basement. To avoid disturbing the general public.
Ray: Of course.
Jane: What’s your book about?
Ray: A society that outlaws and burns books.
Pause
Jane: I see. And you plan to write this book in this library?
Ray: It’s forming in my head as we speak.
Jane: In that case I’ll start digging up references to book burning for you.
Ray: Thanks Jane.

“In 1950, our first baby was born, and in 1951, our second, so our house was getting full of children. It was very loud, it was very wonderful, but I had no money to rent an office. I was wandering around the UCLA library and discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for ten cents a half-hour. So I went and got a bag of dimes. The novel began that day, and nine days later it was finished. But my God, what a place to write that book! I ran up and down stairs and grabbed books off the shelf to find any kind of quote and ran back down and put it in the novel. The book wrote itself in nine days, because the library told me to do it.” (On January 5, 2005, Dana Gioia, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, interviewed Ray Bradbury in Los Angeles.)


Bradbury was a strong supporter of public library systems, raising money to prevent the closure of several libraries in California facing budgetary cuts. He said "libraries raised me", and shunned colleges and universities, comparing his own lack of funds during the Depression with poor contemporary students. When the publishing rights for Fahrenheit 451 came up for renewal in December 2011, Bradbury permitted its publication in electronic form provided that the publisher, Simon & Schuster, allowed the e-book to be digitally downloaded by any library patron. The title remains the only book in the Simon & Schuster catalog where this is possible. Bradbury died in 2012 aged 92.