We love libraries.
Large or small, academic or public, we are library people through and through.
My life is a series of important library relationships. As a homeschooled kid, the library was the center of my social and educational world. I vividly remember volunteering in our tiny little local library as a child and when I turned 16 I started being paid to work at the shiny new public library. As a graduate student, I worked in the enormous library system at Indiana University and almost majored in library science. Now, as a professor, I find that my relationships with campus librarians are some of the most important of my teaching career. Not to mention my relationship with a certain husband of mine who has worked in libraries for over a decade and is currently wrapping up his MLS.
Every library I have loved has its own special place in my heart. I can recall the librarians who guided me, the unique smell and sound of each library, the placement of favorite books on the shelves that I navigated by memory. I learned valuable professional lessons while working libraries, made and lost friends, and learned to come out of my shy shell while giving tours or hosting events. I know the difference between beautifully kept library archives and disgustingly water damaged old library storage facilities. I have been a part of the unique culture that works behind the scenes to make libraries operate smoothly (or not, as the case may be). I have known some of the most odd and wonderful people who are drawn to work in the quietly beautiful, methodically chaotic world of libraries.
The library is a pivotal part of our family life as well. We are the kind of people who scout out public libraries when we move to a new area and prioritize getting new library cards. Receiving the privilege of her very own library card this year was a highlight for our six year old daughter, who knows all about respecting library materials and returning them on time. Weekly trips to the library mark the beat of our family rhythm and summer reading programs are a climax to the year. We’ve been known to visit libraries and take photos as tourists. This love affair is serious.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I clicked on a recent article in The Atlantic and found the author to be one of those people who don’t frequent libraries. I just can’t imagine. The slightly disbelieving tone with which she describes the many benefits of libraries is almost as bizarre as her seeming surprise to find that libraries have not only kept up with changing times, but are innovative and cutting edge. Overlaid with a patronizingly note about how libraries serve job seekers and minorities and the article fairly made my eyes bulge. Libraries certainly do provide valuable services to vulnerable populations, but libraries exist for all people who value information, knowledge, and connectedness.
If I seem aghast, it’s because I can’t fathom a life in which visiting libraries is not a common occurrence. Do you buy every new book that might be good, only to find that you wasted $29.95 on a dud? Do you only rent movies, even the ones you don’t end up watching? Or do you buy every movie you watch, resulting in a collection of plastic boxes full of disks you’ve only watched once? Where do you go to find community information and feel engaged? Philosophically, how can you be a thoughtful member of a progressive society without spending time using and supporting the public library as you would museums, parks, and schools?
Libraries are not only good for society, they nourish the soul. Where else can you feel the mix of hush and bustle that thriving libraries share? Libraries vibrate with energy, even the ones that manage to hum along quietly. And, no book store, no matter how lovely, can achieve the library’s promise of being communal and outside of capitalism. No, the benefits of libraries are too numerous to count. So, instead of listing all the benefits that libraries provide, I will share a few favorite ways that you can contribute to the health of your local library.
Check it out! Library funding often depends on circulation figures. This means that the amount of items that libraries check out and the number of services it provides for patrons will determine its ability to thrive. So, by checking out library materials, you are helping to actually sustain the library.
Queue it up! You know how to queue up movies on your computer or television, so become an active user of your local library’s services for requesting and holding materials. By going online and requesting items for purchase, loan, or to be held at the front desk for you to pick up, your library time can be efficient. Also, you may be actively shaping librarians’ choices about which books, films, and other materials to purchase.
Join in! Libraries are hubs of activity. Join a book club, volunteer, attend events, pay your dues to the local Friends of the Library chapter. Show your support and find a community of like-minded book people. If there are little ones in your life, make weekly story times, seasonal film screenings, and summer reading programs a part of their lives. Make them active, life-long library users.
It’s that simple! Being an active library user is good for you, your family, your environment, society, and the library itself.
If you are already a library lover, what is your favorite library memory?
*Alternate title: Stating the Obvious