“Libraries are more than just free book stores!” That is the quote I just read off of cereal. Could it be that I am old-fashion? Or maybe I am just nostalgic for the libraries I remember as a child, but that quote just made me feel sad.
I will be the first to admit that I am a bit odd, as I am the only person I know who is genuinely excited to go to the library. I go with my notebook in hand, contained within is a long list of books I want to read. I go prepared. I arrive with an arm (or bag) full of books, and I will try to not feel self-conscious as I slide each book one at a time into the return bin. I will clumsily hurry if there are people waiting behind me. Then, I enter the most magical place on earth (for me at least).
Each time I move, visiting the library is a must. I need to know their selection, whether the books are organized by a general fiction, and non-fiction, or if there are sub-divisions within the fiction. I will take in the shelf, or shelves containing the recently released to see the variety and number of copies available. While impressive at first, how new and shiny the library appears to me is not a large factor. Yes it is pretty at first, but it will not make up for any deficiencies I will later learn of.
My nostalgia comes from the library from my hometown, the one I visited on a constant basis as a young child up until I had graduated college. The library was in a building donated to the city, and the architecture of it was like nothing else in the city, but that is what made it even better. The walls were covered in dark wood panels, there were fireplaces that were beautiful but unused. There were large stone steps that led to the entry way, which then turned into a foyer with a set of stairs going to a second story that I never actually went up to. The whole atmosphere was musty, the books were crammed into an insufficient number of shelves. The children section was an addition which, by the look of the decor, was probably added in the 70’s. There was a disconnect between the addition and the rest of the building, one immediately felt as soon as you placed foot in either of the sections.
Growing up, Saturday was library day. My younger sister took dance lessons located across the street from the library, so I would spend that hour picking up a stack of books to last me through the week. I know now that the selection was somewhat sparse, but as a child it was wonderful. The librarian was a friendly woman who, up until 3 years ago, was still working there and always had a jovial greeting for me. As technology goes, they were pretty behind up until I was in college. It wasn’t until the new director (my uncle’s friend whom I had known since I was a young child) took over that the system became computerized. That is right, up until at least 2001 if you wanted to find a book you did it the old fashion way, by searching through the card catalogs. In addition to the use of modern technology, the director also ordered fantastic CD’s and more variety in books.
I continued to have my library days throughout college, and afterward in whatever place I was living at the time. While in college the city’s public library had a limit on items borrowed by college students, six at a time, and that number has stuck with me. It is handy when gathering what I must return, I rarely lose track of them.
I recently moved, yet again, and I experienced a lot of frustration at how long I had to wait to get a card, it took about two weeks before I had a piece of mail with my name on it. Upon first inspection I was in awe of the structure. It was just opened this past May, so of course it is all shiny and technologically savvy. The more time I have spent in it, the more I have realized that it is arranged much like a large bookstore, from the location and arrangement of the chairs, to an area of pub style tables with stools which looks like it is just waiting for a Starbucks to be built. Do not get me wrong, if that is what it takes to get people into the building and interested in books, then I am all for it.
There is one thing that has come as a side effect of not only technology but the way it is all set up. People no longer have respect for the institution as they used to. Whatever happened to the quiet atmosphere? Cell phone ring tones are left on, which subsequently leads to not so hushed conversations. The patrons no longer monitor the volume of their voices as they carry on conversations. It drives me mad. With the increased use of self-check out comes the decreased presence of the librarians. I rarely have seen actual employees while I spend inordinate amounts of time in the stacks of books. These are part of the reasons I have heavily considered going into a Library Science post-graduate program. It was the recommendations of recent graduates with no jobs that steered me away.
With the advent of e-readers, death of the paper printed word appears to be a given. For this girl, that will never be so. My Grammie raised me to have a love of books, she always said that if the time and economic situation was different she would have been a librarian. From her, I have learned to love the public library. The idea of finding a book that would make me forget anything and everything going on around me is enticing. There is also the fact of having vast amounts of information which I do not need to pay for. There are still so many people, including the ripe minds of children, who do not have the financial opportunity to either buy books, or own an e-reader, and this is where the library comes in. I feel as if it has never been more important to have these resources available to anyone, no matter their economic status.
Libraries can be seen as a “free bookstore”, but it is my hope that they are seen as much more than that. I will quiet my frustration each time a cell phone rings, but a little “shushing” here and there would be nice, for nostalgia’s sake.