November 1, 2017

Discovering Libraries: Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

by The Thinker, Nadia Daniels-Moehle 

"So it goes."
Kurt Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut has been a household name throughout my life. When I was pretty small, I was a bit too young to comprehend politics or why this guy Kurt my parents mentioned was so brilliant.

For example this quote was written, in indelible marker, on our wall: "The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon."  I got a little older, politically aware, tall enough to be eye to eye with the quote, and old enough to understood its humor.

For a few years Kurt hovered in the background. Then when I was about 14 I read Slaughterhouse Five, I find my impetus for reading it is somewhat embarrassing: a boy I found cute said it was his favorite book.

So I let Slaughterhouse Five take me on a desolate adventure that turned life's insanity into the only sane thing. I continually come back to Kurt Vonnegut's work because it has the ability to bring his readers to an ironic, truthful, and beautifully brutal portrayal of the world, and of people.

In 2016 I learned about Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML) when I came across its Kickstarter campaign A Permanent Home for Kurt Vonnegut's Legacy. I was delighted to see an organization not only remembering an author's legacy but also using that legacy to create community and possibilities.

Thanks to KVML I, a then 15-year-old, funded a Kickstarter with my own money for the very first time. The preservation and sharing of knowledge and world views surrounding Kurt Vonnegut's work is utterly important. To evolve into better people, and into a better world, we need accessible knowledge and willing people, KVML has both.

About a month ago I was planning a, long dreamed of, visit to KVML during Banned Books Week. I knew I needed to write a Discovering Libraries post about it. I contacted Julia Whitehead, the founder and CEO, who then put me in touch with Chris Lafave, the Library Curator. I then had an great phone conversation with the friendly and willing Chris during which he said, "Libraries are something else, they are almost like science fiction in a way."  I was excited, really, really excited.

Then Life happened, the kind of Life that makes you shrug and say "so it goes": two days before our visit my little sister found herself in the ER, while in the end she was alright she (and therefore we) couldn't travel. However I was determined, so determined that I chose to write a Discovering Libraries post without having visited the library.

photo credit: Chris Lafave
Chris Lafave, Library Curator 
Thankfully Chris was still willing to answer the Discovering Libraries interview questions as planned. Chris's answers made it possible for me, and now you, to virtually experience KVML. I also learned that his position as Library Curator is one that I dream of having, so watch out Chris someday I just may try to steal your job!

BFWP: Could you share how you came to work at KVML?
Chris Lafave: Certainly. In the beginning of 2011 I was halfway through a masters degree in Library Science from IUPUI when I found out there was about to be a Kurt Vonnegut Library opened right down the street from where I was going to school, so naturally as a huge Vonnegut fan, looking for employment of any kind in the library world, I ran to the spot as soon as I could and I offered any services I could give. I started as a volunteer, I spent about 3 hours that day alone taking stickers off of books that had been donated to our lending library by Half Priced Books*. I attended our grand opening, ran a raffle for fans to win a prize from our gift shop, and continued to work events as my schooling and day job allowed. Towards the end of 2011 our CEO and Founder Julia Whitehead asked me if I'd like to work for the library as the curator, and I excitedly agreed, and took over the position in 2012.
BFWP: Why do you think Kurt Vonnegut's stories and wisdom give people, young and old, both community and escapism?
CL: Well, I believe that Kurt Vonnegut's work touched on difficult subjects, for example we took the name of our 2018 programming from his novel Slapstick, or Lonesome No More. Vonnegut considered loneliness to be a disease, afflicting America because we no longer have large families, thus removing from us a large sense of community. Kurt may have born this feeling because of the somewhat recent dissolution of his marriage to Jane Cox, and partly because of the death of his sister in 1958, which he never really had much time to process until later in his life, when his kids (and her kids, whom he adopted) grew up. Lastly, he does reference the death of his uncle in that novel in the beginning, with Kurt and his brother going back to Indianapolis for the funeral.  It's a sad book, but full of humor. I believe it's Kurt's way of saying "the world is always going to be hard and difficult, here is a way I have dealt with it, through humor and these interesting stories about a guy who runs for President of the United States with the promise of giving everyone random large families, to help with loneliness, which contributes to poverty and the dissolution of marriages."  That kind of escapism I think, gives people hope, it removes them from the idea of feeling alone.

Chris mentioned KVML's 2018 programming and it just so happens that you, yes you, can help fund it! Their Kickstarter Lonesome No More - 2018 Programming at KVML ends November 15, and every donation, every dollar counts.

Why fund this Kickstarter you may ask...well...donating financially gives you a deeper connection to what you believe in whether the arts, social justice, science, or Hoosier literary culture. You become personally invested, and the world needs people to be personally invested, especially right now.

I know this from personal experience, as a teenager I've donated to Kickstarters knowing that I am not only investing in things I believe in but investing in the future. KVML wants to invest in the future of many for it will, "focus on mental health for all of its 2018 events and programming."

So take whatever you have to share and share it with KVML, this programing is so important and you will be investing in many people's futures.

BFWP: Why do you think libraries are an important part of a community?
CL: Endless reasons really, many people cannot afford books, movies, or even internet access, the library provides all of those, plus a feeling of both community and escapism depending on what you are looking for. Plus, nearly every library on earth has programs, ranging from childhood to adult literacy to book clubs, to simply providing meeting space for any kind of organization.
BFWP: Which library did you grow up using?
CL: Carmel Clay Public Library, but I have fond memories of many, Indianapolis has an excellent selection of public libraries, very fond of the College Avenue branch, the Spades Park Library which is a Carnegie Library, the main branch, in Muncie, Indiana where I went to University, Bracken Library with the college is an excellent library, the Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library is where I believe I first checked out Cat's Cradle, and thus was responsible in a large way for my love of Vonnegut, which is interesting considering he eventually received his masters degree from the University of Chicago for Cat's Cradle.
BFWP:What can a citizen do to help preserve the library as an institution?
CL: Donate money, or your time to volunteer, advocate for arts/humanities organizations, whenever you hear that funding is a problem, tell your neighbors and family, write your congressperson/governor.
BFWP: What service or feature is available at KVML that might surprise people?
CL: We are trained to register people to vote!

BFWP: If you had a magic wand and could do absolutely anything for the libraries of the world what would it be?

CL: Give us unlimited funding and make sure the entire world knows we're here.
(BFWP: Hint, hint... now would be a great time to fund KVML's Kickstarter.)

BFWP: What is the most interesting item held in the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library's collection?
CL: Oh man, that's a tricky one, there is a letter from World War II, written by his father, that Kurt never opened, and his son Mark never opened it either, it's still sealed from 1944.  There's also a very angry letter to the editor that Kurt (father of 6) wrote to Look Magazine about Little League Baseball ruining family dinner hour.  That about broke my heart, thinking that Kurt might not like Baseball (I'm kidding), we also have a speech where he admits to not liking Bratwurst (that did break my heart).
BFWP: What are some special features of KVML?
CL: I can think of quite a few, this is one of the few libraries in the world where you are downright encouraged to type on a Typewriter, we have a piece of charred paper in our collection from when one of our Banned Books Week guests typed up the entire novel Fahrenheit 451 on two taped together pieces of paper, and then lit it on fire!  It sits next to a great photograph of Kurt and Ray Bradbury, courtesy of Dr. Jonathan Eller, who represents the Ray Bradbury Center, which is at IUPUI, right down the road from here.
BFWP: What is the best part of working at KVML?
CL: Hands down getting to meet diverse and interesting people every day, and having nearly all of them be Vonnegut fans, not to mention fans of the arts in general.  I've met so many other deadheads here.
BFWP: Do you have a favorite place in KVML?
CL: Absolutely, the actual reading space in the library, we have very comfortable chairs, a stereo system, a dimly lit light, a Typewriter, and walls of books.  I'm pretty content there.
BFWP: What are your hopes for the future of KVML?
CL: That it remains a place where arts and humanities fans can congregate for whatever reason they need us for centuries to come.  That it outlives me by an enormous margin.

Seriously Chris thanks for the awesome interview and don't hesitate to give me a call when you are ready to retire! Even though I haven't (yet!) visited KVML I feel as though I have.

The ability words and stories have to connect never cease to amaze me, nor does life, so in the words of Kurt Vonnegut: "So it goes."


photo source: KVML 
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library's Mission: 
The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library champions the legacy of Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut and the principles of free expression, common decency, and peaceful coexistence he advocated. 
Take a moment to check out their diversity statement which opens with this very truthful and poignant Kurt Vonnegut quote:  
“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. 
The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”

Take five minutes and share what you can with KVML's Kickstarter
The clock is ticking so don't hesitate!