Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's like it was made for me! Today's BTT on Libraries and You

Suggested by Barbara:

I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?

Well, as anyone who comes here often knows, I make frequent use of my public library. I've done so pretty much everywhere I've ever lived. I have library cards for about four or five different systems in my state. I patronize them quite a bit and pay enough late fines to have my own wing in some of them. I've been going to the library all my life. I think I got my first card when I was around five. It was a paper card with my signature on it. I spent hours in our Pizza-Hut looking local library (was about the same size as a Pizza Hut too). I can't claim to have read all the books in it, but I'm pretty familiar with their offerings.

When I was living and working in Central New York, I had four libraries at my convenient disposal. One was right at my workplace. It worked entirely on the honor system. It wasn't staffed. They kept a binder in the room, and if you wanted a book, you wrote down your name, what you were taking, and the date you took it. You kept it as long as you wanted and brought it back when you were ready. If it had been a while, the librarian would hunt you down and give you a gentle reminder that maybe someone else would like to use that book. It was great. The town library was within walking distance of where I worked, on the same road, so I went there a lot, too. I joined their book club and went faithfully, even had my own session once. Around the corner from my apartment building was yet another library, but it was a pretty crappy library. I only went a couple of times. It had extremely limited hours and selection. Both times I was there, I was the only person in the joint.

As to what type of library I prefer? I'm not sure. I thought I liked the sleek, modern huge one in my area the best. Then before vacation, I went to the one in my hometown. Although it falls into the sleek and modern category too (the Pizza Hut one was abandoned in favor of a new building and now houses the school district's admin offices), it's smaller and more manageable. I did much better there. I wasn't rushed because of parking limits. There weren't a million people there. The selection was less overwhelming -- I could actually see everything -- and I walked away with a fair number of books. I felt the same way about the library in Stockbridge, MA. It was small, but it was in a beautiful old buidling and it had a terrifc selection, particularly for its size. Oddly, I have more trouble getting the books I want from the large library I generally go to than I ever did in Stockbridge or in my hometown. So I'm going to cop out and say that it's good that there are both. Just like IKEA serves its function, but so do local boutique furniture and housewares stores.

I don't think the library will ever be replaced by the bookstore/coffeehouse. People may use libraries a little differently now. It may have become less of a hangout than it used to be. Families with young children will always patronize them because picture books are expensive and it doesn't take kids long to get bored with them. Students doing reports will patronize libraries as long as there's information in books that can't be culled reliably from the internet. It's a great place for any book lover on a budget.

I think libraries represent some of the best values of our society: open access to information and education, trust in one another, sharing resources with the community. I feel good every time I go to the library. I never want to see them go away. So everyone, enjoy National Library Week. Keep patronizing them, and keep speaking up for them when your voice is needed.

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