With the economy besieged, abnormally high unemployment the new "norm" chained to mountainous government deficits, no single constituency has felt the harsh sting more than the nation's public libraries. From across our fruited plain, libraries are usually the first casualties, having to endure the blunt blade of budget cuts slicing through library staffs, shorting hours and their timeless collections.

And whoever believes that a library is solely a brick and mortar structure consumed with computers, chairs, and row upon row of shelves swollen with books, magazines, newspapers, videos, DVD's and maps has never dialogued with Kulpmont native son, Walt Lutz.

Kulpmont is one of the few mid-sized municipalities in Northumberland County that does not have its own standing public library.

Last July, thanks to Lutz, that changed, sort of.

What the borough does possess is a shelf full of books established alongside Lutz's longtime family abode in what the Bucknell and Dartmouth graduate beckons all comers in his own handwriting, the "Kulpmont Free Lending Library." The Library of Congress it's not, but they do have an eclectic collection of tomes for all ages.

There has never been a downside in any effort to establish a library. Best of all, at Lutz's creation, you don't need a library card to make a withdrawal. And there's no such thing as a late fee, nothing. Not a penny. Just bring it back when you're done.

What Lutz understands and appreciates all too well is that in today's universe, a culture's social and political well-being fundamentally hinges upon the literacy of its citizenry. Moreover, today's contemporary economy profoundly depends on a well-informed workforce in order to prevail competitively in the international market place.

Provided we desire to preserve such an independent and egalitarian society, there is no substitute for national literacy. It is no coincidence that a passport is a book and no question that books are the genuine passports to the greater world.

As the late Ray Bradbury prophetically wrote, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

It is no nationwide secret that reading scores among American school students are at a 40-year low. That lack of reading comprehension even extends to the top echelon of our federal government. When former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her desperate appeal that Congress pass the 2,400-page monstrosity best known as ObamaCare in order to "find out what's in it," Pelosi's infamous plea became an instant classic in the boundless annals of dysfunctional government.

Then there's Attorney General Eric Holder who confessed, after filing a federal lawsuit against Arizona's immigration law that he neglected to read the 13-page document. Holder admitted he never read any of the reports his field agents sent him about the botched, "Fast and Furious" quagmire.

Not to be left out is former Department of Energy honcho Steven Chu. While defending the half-billion tax dollars given to Solyndra, he claimed he hadn't read any of the missives forewarning him that Solyndra's chance of success could be likened to a snowball's chance in Hades. The most egregious example is Obama himself, who, as rumor has had it for some time, started reading the Constitution once, but quit soon after realizing it had nothing to do with the redistribution of wealth.

Low reading scores do not bode well for our republic or any civilized society. Reading correlates strongly with civic engagement and rigorous debate. The Founding Fathers were all profound readers who were influenced by many of the same authors: Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire and Adam Smith. They read in Latin, too, especially the classic Roman essayists on civil life: Cicero, Tacitus and Virgil. Such scholarship provided them with a secure and strong foundation in how to conduct a discourse about what a government of the people and by the people ought to be and act.

Who really is committed to consuming the published word these days? Children from every socio-economic class spend thousands of hours welded to screens both large and small engrossed in playing video games. Books are seen as mundane and monotonous.

Lutz knows that any time you hand a child a book, you have the opportunity to change a life. Reading is a dynamic intellectual pursuit that cultivates a child's intelligence, fosters their vocabulary and enhances their command of language and critical thought. To read is to live greatly. Today most high school students rarely read for pleasure and their parents are not much better. Woefully, we live in an age where the most profound reading done by most Americans requires logging onto a Facebook account. This year, more than half of the country won't read a single book.

Books are low-tech at its finest. No dust or spilled beer will disable them and they will be around for years, no charger needed. Author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau believed books to be the carriers of civilization, "Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill."

Growing up, many of us, me included, thought of reading as the fried liver of the intellectual diet. About the only serious reading we did were school menus, defenses and what went on between the lines. But as long deployments and university life summoned, things transformed as only time can do, and an innovative world that was once seen as wearisome blossomed into a multitude of self-contained pulp journeys.

Walt Lutz does have one request, however. He is asking people if they have a favorite author or book to drop him a letter and convey what reading has meant to them. You can do so by writing the Kulpmont Free Lending Library, 860 Oak St., Kulpmont 17834. Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner has already checked in, informing Lutz his favorite tome, like that of the U.S. Congress, is the Bible. I believe Warner, but I maintain serious doubts about Congress' veracity.

Lutz plans on posting whatever responses he gets in the anticipation of "kindling interest in reading" that will hopefully lead to a bonfire that will lighten up a spirited generation of book lovers.

It is evident that Lutz's love of the written word isn't usurped. He loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them. Best of all, he wants to share them with you. Kulpmont's Free Lending Library is available as long as the sun shines from its opening from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 26, through Labor Day.

Save that date - it's only a week away.

(Greg Maresca, a freelance writer, composes "Talking Points" for each Sunday edition.)