“The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein.

When I first arrived in the US (Atlanta) and introduced myself to strangers, I often received the response, “Marian the Librarian?” Unfamiliar with The Music Man show in which this character appears, I would reply in my ever-so clipped English accent that Southerners loved to mimic, “No, actually I’m a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

A couple of years later when I was ready to plunge back into a career, I chose the law. Forty years on, I wonder whether I should have followed my love of books into library science instead.

Libraries have always been part of my life, from weekly visits to check out books as a child in the UK, to taking my young granddaughters to story time at the Bellingham Public Library. In The Library Book, about the fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986, Susan Orlean talks about libraries as the great equalizer. Everyone is welcome free of charge, whether to find an entertaining yarn, a reliable internet connection, or just a quiet place out of the cold to sit and rest. Library funding has a fantastic return on investment: it fills the gaps between other social services and helps people find their way to information about life-changing opportunities.

Which is why I was thrilled that my first book event after the release of Daughters of Riga happened at the Winthrop Public Library in the Methow Valley of North Central Washington on March 21. This magnificent space opened in 2022 and replaces a much-used but outgrown double-wide trailer. The Old West theme of the town is reflected in the barn-like structure which incorporates work by local artists, as well as cozy corners and whimsical touches.

hollow tree artwork inside the winthrop library

About twenty people gathered in the library’s community room for my talk. I explained the origin story of the novel and why I felt compelled to write it. I read a couple of short passages from the book, but the majority of the time was reserved for a wide-ranging discussion that touched on an audience member’s memories of a visit to the Resistance Museum in Riga, the reluctance of veterans to speak about wartime experiences, parallels to the current conflict in Ukraine, amongst other topics.

participants at book launch at Winthrop Library

Marian Exall presenting Daughters of Riga at Winthrop Library

Daughters of Riga is a tale of courage and resilience through the destruction and displacement of war and its aftermath. After devastating forest fires, the Methow Valley knows its share about destruction and displacement. But the valley also knows how to come together as a community to recover and rebuild.

R. David Lankes, Director of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina, said: “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build community.” Built by the community for the community, the new Winthrop library exemplifies a hopeful forward-facing energy. The same energy powered our discussion on March 21. Libraries are often named as “third places”: a public space separate from home or work where people can find community. I look forward to returning often to this third place in my second home.

Ask for Daughters of Riga at your local library. 

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