Jason’s Library

by Laird Roberts

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    It started just a little over two years ago. Jason Hardman was ten then, and it was summer. The tulips along the main street of Elsinore, Utah, were only a bright blur of color to Jason as he streaked by them on his bike. He slowed and turned the corner at the post office and then, passing the Cash Store, he started pedaling even faster, moving up toward the town hall. He didn’t want to be late. The sidewalk ended, and he turned his bike onto the deserted street.

    It was late in the day. The town was quiet. Nighthawks were sweeping the warm air above the streets for bugs. Jason rode his bike through the long-flung shadows into pools of light so bright and liquid he half expected to splash through them.

    As in most small towns there is a kind of quiet eloquence to summer evenings in Elsinore. It’s a good place to be in summer. Just south of town in the thickets of mulberry bushes and Russian olives there are quail, pheasants, jackrabbits, and coyotes. In town there is a ball park, two rock shops, the Eat at Steve’s and Get Gas service station and cafe, and the Cash Store; but two years ago there was no library.

    There was no place to check out books telling of pirate Long John Silver and his treasure or of the terrible Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of Moby Dick across wild seas. After you’d read all the good books you had at home, there was no place close by to get books to read late at night under warm and safe covers, solving the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie mysteries were Jason’s favorite.

    The mayor leaned back in his chair. The other members of Elsinore’s town council were smiling as Jason stood in front of them.

    “We need a library,” Jason said.

    “Nope, not enough money.”

    “No place to put it.”

    “No one to run it.”

    Jason told them they could put the library in one of the unused rooms in the town hall and that it wouldn’t cost much money. They could get people to donate the books. He also told them he would run it. They turned him down again, thinking he would just give up. They didn’t know Jason.

    “I knew I could do it. I could get a library started,” Jason says. “I wasn’t about to give up.”

    For months he kept asking and the mayor and council kept saying no, but finally either the mayor and the city council wore down or they became convinced Jason could get a library started. They gave him permission to use a room in the basement of the town hall. They offered him no money or assistance. If there was going to be a library, it would be up to Jason.

    “Maybe he will look at the room we gave him and give up.”

    The city hall was in a restored grade school and the basement was in bad shape. Jason, his family, and several friends had to scrub the floor with wire brushes. The walls and ceilings had to be thoroughly cleaned. Lights had to be found. Shelves had to be built.

    “I couldn’t have done it without my family,” says Jason. “I couldn’t have built the bookshelves without my father’s help. I can’t run a power saw.”

    After hundreds of hours of work, the room was ready. Now the library needed books.

    “You can tackle almost any project you want to,” Jason says. “You just let your imagination go, and then you do it. No matter what happens, do not give up.”

    Jason started looking for books. He went from door to door asking friends and neighbors if they had any old books they didn’t need. If it was too far for him to walk he called on the phone. Over 2,000 books were donated. The library opened.

    That was when Jason almost gave up.

    “I got very discouraged,” he recalls. “My hours were six to nine, and no one was coming in.”

    It was winter then, and he didn’t need the library to get books for himself. He could check out books from his school library. He went to school in another town five miles from Elsinore.

    “I wanted to quit, but my parents wouldn’t let me,” Jason says. “They said, ‘you started it; you stick with it.’ So I did. I spent a lot of time alone in there.”

    Jason let his imagination go again. He knew if his library was to succeed he had to get more books, good books, books people would want to read. He called and wrote to anyone he could think of that might help. A few more books came in, but not enough. He wrote to politicians, to publishers, and even to other libraries.

    Then a small newspaper in a neighboring town, the Richfield Reaper, ran an article about Jason and his library. The story was printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, and it was then picked up by the Associated Press. Jason became national news. Everyone wanted to know about the youngest librarian in the country. Articles about Jason and his library were published in dozens of national magazines. When he received a call from a man asking him if he wanted to appear on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” he said, “Who is this really?”

    Jason told his story on the “Tonight Show” and on several other television shows. He was also asked to testify before a congressional hearing on rural libraries. He told them of the need for libraries and of the problems he had getting his started. The committee members promised to help Jason in any way they could.

    People from all over the country began donating books. Jason received up to a hundred books in one day for his library. With the publicity and the new books, more people are coming into Jason’s library. It has become quite a popular place.

    What now?

    Jason is sorting and indexing his books, writing thank-you notes to donors, and making plans to improve the library. He talks about getting a computer, better shelves, improving the genealogical section, building a ramp (it’s hard for older people to walk down the stairs), and even of a new building for the library.

    A new building?

    That’s a big project for a 12-year-old, but who knows, even the Elsinore town council takes Jason seriously now when he starts talking about wanting to do something.

    Photos by Laird Roberts