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Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 2000 / 1 Elul 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

If this works, it can literally change young lives -- THERE DOESN'T seem to be an Andrew Carnegie around these days -- so it's up to us to be our own Andrew Carnegies.

Carnegie was an industrialist in the late 19th and early 20th Century, whose corporate career was dotted with the controversies that surround many men who become wealthy in the predatory world of American big business. But Carnegie's legacy has nothing to do with the boardroom. He will always be remembered for one of the great and visionary acts of philanthropy in the history of this country:

Carnegie built libraries. Using money out of his own pockets, he helped pay for the construction of more than 1,700 local public libraries across the United States. Maybe you grew up enjoying the reading of books in a library Carnegie paid for; I did.

Such gestures are just about gone today. One person, recognizing the importance of reading and learning, dedicating himself to the building of public libraries? Not now.

But in our midst, children go to school every day and find understocked libraries in their school buildings -- libraries with woefully inadequate supplies of books, books that are sadly out of date, that are falling apart . . . or books that simply don't exist. They're not there -- the shelves are often all but bare.

If you live in a wealthy school district, this may be news to you -- your children, in your affluent suburb, may have all the books they need at their school library, and you may be accustomed to taking them to big, beautiful bookstores any time they ask for something to read.

In impoverished neighborhoods, things are quite different. In many of the Chicago Public Schools, "We need books -- pure and simple, we need library books," Paul Vallas, the schools' chief executive officer, told me. Across Illinois, state superintendent of education Max McGee told me, there are many schools in which the lack of library books is appalling: "We have a crying need for books around the state. It's very sad to see."

You and I aren't Andrew Carnegie -- we don't have the money to construct new library buildings for children we will never meet.

But many of us, in our homes, have books we no longer read -- good books that children would love to have in their elementary, middle school and high school libraries.

I reported Sunday that, if you will call 773-553-1000, you will be told how you can get your books to the schoolchildren who would be so happy to have full, vibrant libraries. If you would like to mail your books so that the children can read them, the address to which you can send them is: Medill Professional Training Center, 1326 W. 14th Place, Chicago, IL 60608.

In addition, schools CEO Vallas and his chief education officer, Cozette Buckney, have designated six Chicago public schools as places where you can drop off books that will end up in all the school libraries that need them. Student volunteers have been assigned to coordinate the effort. The schools where you can drop off the books are:

- Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave.

- Prosser Career Academy, 2148 N. Long Ave.

- Manley Career Academy, 2935 W. Polk St.

- Phillips Academy, 244 E. Pershing Rd.

- Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

- Corliss High School, 821 E. 103rd St.

Many readers of this column live out in the suburbs -- they have told me they have plenty of books to give to the schoolchildren in Chicago, but are uncertain about driving into the city to drop them off.

Vallas told me that if you have books for the schools' libraries. but can't get them to the schools yourself, and for whatever reason can't mail them, the schools will send a van to pick up the books wherever you may live in Chicago or the suburbs. To request a van to pick up your books, you can call the same telephone number listed earlier in today's column: 773-553-1000.

Will all of this effort work?

The truth is that I really have no idea. This is somewhat new territory; whether enough people will read these words and actually take the trouble to go through the books in their houses, and get the books to the children who would so love to have them, is something we will find out.

But then, Andrew Carnegie probably didn't know where his idea would take him, either. That didn't stop him from trying. And that's all that is needed from us: that we at least are willing to try.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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