The Urbana Free - and wonderful - Library loses its greatest champion


Some years ago, I was working a Saturday reference desk shift.  This was in our old building when reference and our movie collection shared the same space.  There was suddenly a bit of a buzz in the front of the library:  it was Roger Ebert, accompanied by two young people wielding camera and microphone.

He was scheduled to speak at a fund-raising event for the library that evening.  A guided tour had been offered by our director, but the invitation was declined.  Roger, as always, preferred to just mosey in and check things out on his own.  He poked around here and there in the movie collection and then came over to the reference desk to congratulate us:  we had passed the test: he had found all of his favorite obscure titles in our collection!

The Urbana Free – and wonderful – Library is a phrase coined by Ebert.  He shared his love of the library and Miss Fiske, the librarian of his childhood, at the fund-raising event that evening.  He was a skillful speaker and brought us all to sentimental tears at exactly the right point.  We owe much to him for the building we occupy today.

More impressive to me, though, was his amazingly gracious manner.  He stood and listened patiently to each and every person that came up to speak to him.  His answers were thoughtful and intelligent, of course, but what I caught a glimpse of that night was the grace with which he would later face illness and disability.

I have no doubt that he left us today with the same grace.

Anne Phillips