Written by: Daniel Urie at PennLive/The Patriot-News

https://www.pennlive.com/life/2021/05/susan-orlean-author-of-the-orchid-thief-to-kickoff-35-million-fundraising-campaign-for-harrisburg-library.html

May 5, 2021

Susan Orlean, writer of “The Orchid Thief” – which was the basis for the Academy Award-winning movie “Adaptation” – is coming to Harrisburg on Saturday to kick off the $3.5 million fundraising campaign for the McCormick Riverfront Library.


The expansion project at 101 Walnut St. in Harrisburg includes connecting the library with the adjacent 5,458-square-foot residence of Sara Haldeman Haly, whose bequest seeded the Dauphin County Library System.


Orlean is coming to the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg at 7 p.m. Saturday. While her appearance is by invitation only, the public can see a free livestream of her talk. To register, go to dcls.org/SusanOrlean. NPR’s Scott Detrow will ask her questions about life, literature and libraries.

Orlean said that this will be the first live event that she has done in more than a year.


“I enjoy doing live events so much,” she said. “I really do. So, it’s been very weird this year as you can imagine.”


She added that thanks to Zoom she has still been able to keep most of her speaking engagements.


Orlean is also the author of “The Library Book,” which chronicles the 1986 fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library, and it also tells the larger story of the importance of libraries to their communities and their vital role.


PennLive talked to Orlean in an interview on Tuesday. Here are parts of that interview:


On her unlikely role as a library spokesperson:
“Supporting libraries and being part of a lot of campaigns, which turns out to be the case for me since the book came out has really been gratifying. I feel really lucky. You write a book and you hope that people read it and respond to it. This is like an add-on to be able to continue participating in the world that I’ve written about and so there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from that.”


On becoming a spokesperson for libraries:
“One of the ways I define myself as a writer is that I really don’t know a lot about anything and I consider that actually an asset, because I just get interested in things and devote myself to learning about them and then when I learned a lot about them I like telling people about them. I begin my entrance into these worlds really knowing nothing I knew as much about libraries as anyone would know that would use them and nothing more. So this experience reporting on the world of libraries turned me into someone who found myself knowing a lot about them. And, I would never call myself an expert at all, but I did spend about six years really immersing myself learning about libraries– library history and obviously this particular story of the LA (Los Angeles) library. So I came out of it feeling like I really knew a lot about this world that I knew very little.”
On how librarians reacted to her book:


“I’m happy to say very enthusiastically, because when you write a book about a world and you enter it as an outsider you know that your harshest critics might be the very people you’re writing about. I was very conscious of that. And when the book was finished I knew that there might be things that I got wrong so it was a really wonderful feeling to have librarians respond and say, ‘Boy you really got it right. You really captured our world.’ That was a huge compliment.”
On why libraries still matter:


“Libraries have always evolved and I think that they have proven themselves to be remarkably adaptable. Books are not static. They’ve changed over and over and over again from the early existence of libraries, where they were preserving scrolls and precious single copies of things. They evolved over time. One thing to be conscious of is that we aren’t seeing libraries suddenly for the first time contending with new media or new conditions. They’ve always adapted and they’ve adapted pretty well. They’ve proven to be one of the more durable institutions in civilization. They’ve been around for a very long time and seem to be likely to stick around. The fact that it’s easy to borrow books electronically, I think, just adds another dimension to what libraries can do rather than subtracting to what libraries can do. I also think that libraries are physical places that we don’t have a lot of similar physical places. We don’t have a lot of places that we can gather or work or learn in an open environment that you don’t have to buy anything you can come and work in the library all day for free and that is something that we might actually find ourselves doing more in the future rather than less.”

On being organized when you’re writing a book:
“To me, half of the challenge of writing a book is just managing the material come up with an organizing system and stick with it. It really can get overwhelming. When you’re working for years on a project it’s really easy to start losing track like literally, figuratively of losing track of where stuff is.”


On library fundraising:
“I feel like one outcome of having written this book is being able to participate in library fundraising as a sort of guest to the process. So I’ve done it a lot. I’m thrilled about it. It’s so satisfying to feel that I can be part of these campaigns.”


On her favorite section of the library:
“I love the maps.”