Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ode to Public (and other) Libraries

We’re a library-going people. I remember going to the public library often as a child. I remember I was distinctly put out when, in second grade or so, I had read all the children’s books in our little branch of the library. I was so upset that I had to move on to young adult literature when I was, as I pointed out, still a child (I must have been fun to be around, huh?). Later, when I was maybe in junior high, my mom and I would check out the maximum number of books we each could every week and then trade off so we’d have more to read. And, of course, I went to many a library with my dad as we traveled across the country. He was looking for hidden Frank Norris letters, among other things, and I was along for the ride. (In fact, the first thing my dad said when I told him we were considering moving to Cleveland was that they had one of the finest public libraries he had ever seen.) I worked shelving Government Documents in the main library and books and journals in the science library while I was in college. I’ve been the congregational librarian at church. I used to love teaching research methods to my composition classes, though they hated learning it, foolish children. And I am perhaps at my happiest and most productive when I’m in a library, public or otherwise.

When we first moved to South Carolina many moons ago, we had no internet for a while, as usual, and I spent many hours at the local public library. I was searching for a job with some measure of desperation since we’d determined that the husband’s resident salary would pay rent, insurance, phone/cable/internet, electricity…and nothing else. If we wanted to eat or go anywhere or, you know, take a shower, it was going to be up to me. So I haunted the library, using their computer lab whenever it was open, using their printers for my resumes and CVs, using their books when I decided I needed to expand my search, using their couches when the thought of going home empty-handed once again was too terrifying. Eventually, I ended up with not one but three jobs, one of which I later turned into a full-time gig. I think I owe a large part of that success to the availability of the library resources.

Then, after J was born and I lost my scholarly library privileges after I quit my teaching job, the public library was once again my savior, keeping my minimal intellectual pursuits alive. When J got a little older, we went to children’s programs of all sorts there, and he learned how to interact with other children, how to listen when someone else was reading aloud, how to sing along with other kids, and how to avail himself of all the library had to offer, including the DVDs and, recently, the chapter books, which he had been coveting for some time and was so happy to read with us. When Baby E arrived, he came along with us to the story times and programs, even though he was more interested in the stuffed animals than the books for a long while. We went to the library at least once a week and frequently more often than that, at all hours of the day, whenever we were bored or in need of a little distraction or just trolling for a change of scenery.

When we moved here to Ohio, we went to the public library on our second day. The next day, we returned with proof of residency, and J got his first (actually, second, but he doesn’t know he had one at 18 months in SC—kids had no fines!) library card with much fanfare. They gave him a pin to wear and a certificate to commemorate the day and recorded the first book he checked out with his big boy card. There were smiles all around! Since then, we’ve visited multiple times already, to play and read in the children’s section, to attend their Play and Learn Station programs, to check out many books, and to use the internet once in a while. This library also has a robust slate of programming for both kids and adults, and we’re looking forward to visiting again and again. Right now, while I’m on a temporary hiatus from all things virtual, I’m happy to be able to read whatever I want and watch the library’s DVDs (it’s the first season of The West Wing right now; what could be better?). And we’re still going when we need a break, because it’s just around the corner. How convenient, in so many ways.

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