In praise of libraries

I got my first library card when I was too young to remember. At my hometown library, little kids had a pink, rectangular card and adults had a smaller, square blue card. My Dad got us each our own string bag (it was the 70s) to carry our books in.

We went to the library the way other families to go to sporting events or restaurants. Every two weeks almost religiously throughout my life. The kid’s card had a max of 7 books you could check out, whereas the adult card, which you couldn’t get until you were 13, jumped to like 20 books or something. I still remember the day I turned in my pink card for my adult, blue card. I was so excited, running my fingers along the little metal piece they with raised numbers that was part of the blue cardboard square card and thinking about how VERY MANY BOOKS I was able to check out now.

Every two weeks, we would head to the library and spend at least a couple of hours browsing. My sister clued me in to where some of the sections were in the upstairs, “big” library that had books I might like. I spent a lot of time in the Science Fiction section, pulling out book after book by Ray Bradbury, and finally getting his huge compendium of short stories that I dove into like a warm pool. My Mom would often browse the New Fiction section and just pick something based on the title and the book jacket. I still remember the children’s library. I read every single Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss book on the shelf, and then graduated to Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wind in the Willows. The librarians would gather the children around on carpet squares and read to us while our parents were upstairs browsing. When I was in middle school, I checked out a book about the making of the Wizard of Oz that I still remember as fascinating, learning about the deleted Jitterbug scene and how the original green makeup burned Margaret Hamilton’s face.

As we drove home, we would excitedly talk about what books we got and which ones we were going to read first. Then we would come home and sit around in the living room and read for a few hours. I’m not kidding. I had NO IDEA when I was a kid that this wasn’t what everyone did. The TV was only for things like Nova or In Search Of or Cosmos or maybe the Waltons, and around the holidays we’d have the Peanuts’ Christmas or settle in for The Ten Commandments. But there was never a football or baseball game on that TV. When we were taking our books back, we’d report to each other which one was good or bad. If it was a good one, we would renew it and give it to the other person to read.

I got older and learned how to use the card catalog and the reader’s guide to research things for school work. There was something very special about our library, with it’s musty book smell and comfortable quiet. I was not a quiet kid (as I am not a quiet adult), but I never had any problem staying quiet in the library, hour after hour.

As I grew into adulthood I found how much librarians know. One of my housemates in college was a guy going for his MLS and the amount of knowledge they have in their brains is absolutely astounding. They are likely one of the most underutilized and untapped resources out there. You can ask a librarian anything. If they don’t know the answer, they will know how to find it, and will want to help you do that so they can learn the answer as well.

I get all my books and movies from the library. With life as busy as it is now, I don’t have as much time to go and browse the shelves like I used to, but the resources available at the library now are just amazing. From free music downloads to free language instruction, libraries continue to be, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated and underutilized resources we have available to us. I recently shared an elevator car down with a co-worker who asked where I was headed for lunch. “To the library,” I said, to return some books and pick up some new ones. She had NEVER EVEN BEEN to the Cleveland library. My work building is RIGHT NEXT DOOR. I was amazed. She asked what I had been reading, and I told her the subject I was researching and how I had called the librarian at the desk on the floor that covers that subject area, told him what I was researching and then he pulled about a dozen books for me that I went over and picked through on my lunch hour, all waiting for me at the desk, declining the ones that seemed too far afield and looking forward to digging into the ones that were right on target.

When was the last time you went to the library?


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