Friday, November 26, 2010

Love Letter to the Library

I read this article on :

Go ahead and read it, I'll wait. 

Ok. Are libraries passe? I don't think so. Nor should they be phased out. My mom was a career librarian and gave me my love for reading. Even before she went back to work, we took weekly trips to the library to stock up on books. Back in those days, books were a luxury we couldn't afford to buy on our own and the library was always there for us. Once she started working there? I was like a kid in a candy store. Dad & I would go to pick her up (he worked nights, so he was free to keep an eye on me after school while Mom was at work) and I would frantically grab books to take home. If I was a good girl, I was allowed in the back where I could plunder through the newly returned books for treasures. If the librarians were busy back there, I'd browse through the stacks and carry a pile up to take home. 

I watched my first videotape at the library. Back then, our library had 3 viewing stations so that people who didn't have VCR's at home could still see movies, and I think they were one of the first libraries in the state to offer that. Anyway, the first one I watched was Star Wars. There were also a few listening stations for LP's and audiotapes. I learned about old radio serials from the AV department and checked out all of the Amos & Andy tapes, as well as other programs. I picked out albums based solely on the cover art (hey, I was a kid) and discovered jazz and blues and a handful of comedians. (mom didn't censor my book choices much, but she kept an eagle on on the audio selections- not that the library had too much of anything hardcore. public funding and all that) Oh, and the magazines! I didn't know that there were that many magazines available. I quickly figured out that most of them didn't appeal to me, but just knowing that they were there was enough.

When I got older, I was hired as a library page. This is basically a glorified term for shelver. I felt all grown up- I had to get my social security card for payroll, the librarians who had always seen me as "Marie's kid" now treated me like one of them, and I still got to take home as many books as I could carry, plus I got PAID! Shelving allowed me to find books I might not have seen otherwise. When I went off to college and was given a choice of jobs for my work-study financial aid, I immediately chose to work in one of the college libraries. My bosses were amazed by my shelving prowess and amused by the stacks of books I constantly took back to the dorm.

Post college, I eventually wound up working in bookstores. I'd still be there if A: they paid more, and B: I hadn't thoroughly come to loathe working retail. I like books, people I'm not so crazy about. With the employee discount, I bought books out the wazoo. I stopped using the library as much because it wasn't as convenient and I hated waiting for them to buy the new books that I wanted to read. (still do. I realize that they have to spend their money on books that will appeal to the largest number of people and can't buy EVERYTHING, but it makes me crazy when they don't get a new title in for months, if at all)

Although I no longer work retail, I still buy a fair amount of books. But I also use the library a lot more. It took a few years for me to find a branch that I liked- the main library here is mostly staffed by some of the most lazy, obnoxious people I've ever met. (alas, they're in a union, so they can't be easily fired) There are a handful of VERY nice people there, who I miss talking to, but I got tired of dealing with the others and eventually quit going there. The branch closest to my house had a rotating staff when I started using it and I had numerous problems there at first, but now they have a permanent staff who are some of the most delightful people I know. They know me by name (and I know their names) , are amused by my omnivorous reading & music habits, and we share family stories and book recommendations all the time. I use the computers there a few times a week (no printer at home, and can't print some things at work, so I go to the library for that too) and attend a few of the programs when they fall in hours I'm not working. We even held a book club meeting there once. (the club disbanding shortly after that was a coincidence- My friend Laura and I keep trying, but can't get one off the ground.)

It makes me crazy when I hear people say that they don't know what good libraries do. Let's see- free access to books/magazines/music/videos, free access to computers (limited time, but they're free!), free classes in computer skills/creating resumes/job searching online, a safer place for kids to go after school, school tutoring/homework assistance, storytimes and other programs for small children...the list goes on. Anyone who doesn't want to go through formal education can still learn about almost anything under the sun by reading library books.

Two years ago here in Louisville, one of the most hotly contested issues was a proposed library tax. It was an occupational tax that would have cost most people about $5 a year, if that. The money it would have raised could have increased the collection, built new branches, remodeled some of the older branches, and been a real asset to the community. It got voted down. I partially understand why- our mayor was known for taking money earmarked for projects and throwing into his own pet issues, but a lot of people said they voted against it "because I don't use the library, so why should I pay for it?" Well, going by that logic, I don't have kids and am not going to, so why should I pay taxes for schools? Some people don't drive- why should they pay taxes for roads? What if you need to use it some day and it's not there? For $5 a year, it would have been a bargain.

Anyway, now that I've rambled on forever, the point that I was trying to make is that I love libraries. Friends and family members laugh at mom & me when we go on vacation and one of the first things we want to do is go check out the local library and the bookstores. On my first trip to Toronto, one of the first things I did was pick up a handful of fliers from a library and mail them to Mom in NC. When we went to London, we didn't get to a library, but by gad we went to as many bookstores as I could drag Mom into. (And I learned the valuable lesson of go to the British Museum first, hit the Charing Cross Road bookstores last or you will spend the entire time you're in the museum waiting for your arm to fall off under the weight of all the books you foolishly bought and have to lug around until you go back to your hotel!) We went to Washington DC and toured the Library of Congress (beautiful building- if you've never been, GO) and got official library cards from it. (one of my most prized possessions) And if anyone ever succeeds in dragging me to NYC, you can best believe that I will be going to the NY Public Library and getting my picture taken with the lions!

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