Tourists, Mistresses, and the People’s University

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August 17, 2015 by libroshombre

Outside friends visiting must be one of the greatest aspects of life in Alaska. That’s when many of us finally play tourist and explore this wonder-packed place. Fishing tales are even now being spun by the eight guys who recently reunited here after first being drawn together at a small Texas college. Before fishing the Nenana and Klutina Rivers last week, we attended Austin College together over forty years ago. AC’s a liberal arts school in Sherman, Texas founded by Sam Houston before Austin, Texas existed.

Graduating streams of lawyers, doctors, researchers, businessmen, and government wonks, AC’s academically rigorous, so much so that graduate school seemed a step down for many of us. Texas State Representative Smilin’ Dave Allred hired me for his two-person staff solely because of where I matriculated. When introduced to Rep. Allred by a fellow AC grad, he said, “You went to Austin College? Then you can read and write. Want a job?” My stint at the Legislature led to library school at the University of Texas at Austin, where a career began that would satisfy philosophical and intellectual urges first roused at Austin College.

That’s why the raft trip for kings down the Klutina River necessitated looking up the origin of “Klutina” in that marvelous compendium, “The Dictionary of Alaska Placenames.” Created by Donald Orth in 1967, this masterpiece of pre-computer scholarship is amazing for its breadth and quality. It’s hard to find a print copy, but it’s available online at, thanks to the folks at UAF’s Rasmuson Library. There you’ll learn that “‘Klutina’ is an “Ahtena Indian name meaning ‘glacier river’ (‘khlu ti-na’).”

UT’s library school exposed me to the nobler aspects of public libraries: the leveling factor of public libraries being the “People’s University,” our children’s “Doorway to Reading,” and the “First Defense of Intellectual Freedom.” This service aspect of public librarianship resonated for me, and still doFeatured imagees all these years and libraries later. The “Doorway to Reading” shone especially bright during the just-completed Summer Reading Clubs sponsored by Flint Hills at our local public libraries. And the annual observance of Banned Books Week next month serves as an effective reminder of the importance of Intellectual Freedom in our country.

Many people erroneously think Mark Twain said, “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” According to a article by Stacy Conradt, he actually said, “When a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.” Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has been the target of many ill-conceived banning efforts, as were some of Benjamin Franklin’s works.

Foremost among these is his “Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress,” which was a letter meant for Cadwaller Colton. In it Franklin first tries to convince Colton of the advantages of marriage, and, failing that, the advantages of haviFeatured imageng an affair with an older woman rather than a younger. “The bawdy portion of Franklin’s writing was accepted during his own era,” according to Wikipedia, which goes on to outline how the first obscenity laws were enacted in Vermont in 1821, with every state except New Mexico following suit until the Comstock Act of 1873 made mailing “obscene, lewd, and/or other lascivious” materials a federal crime. However, by the 1950s federal judges were citing Franklin’s mistress letter in overturning obscenity laws, with Justice William Douglas mentioning Franklin’s letter and noting, “The First Amendment was the product of a robust, not a prudish age.”Featured image

Thank goodness, my college friends’ fishing conversations could have earned them jail time. Fortunately, the Founding Fathers were concerned with expanding knowledge instead of limiting it. Mark Twain was no different despite living in the nation’s most censorious era. Not only did that avid scrapbooker patent a self-adhesive album, as well as an elastic-clasp for brassieres, he built a library in Redding Connecticut, where he died days after donating $6,000 towards the construction of a new public library. As he did say, “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

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