I casually mentioned that I was at The Library the other day and the person I was chatting with looked at me and said, “The library? Why?” They seemed genuinely surprised that I would voluntarily go. I could see they thought The Library was somewhere you went as a kid only because somebody made you. My conversation companion said, “Can’t you just download books now?” Of course I can, but The Library is not just books.
In many neighborhoods The Library is a community center. It’s where mothers bring their little ones for Story Hour. It’s where immigrants go for classes to learn English as a second language. It’s where people who are unemployed go for job training and to search the web for work. The Library gives senior citizens a close and accessible place to go and not be homebound. And yes, The Library is still where kids go after school to do their homework getting research help from The Librarian when they need it. It’s not just books.
Depending on resources, The Library is the hip, hot, happening spot. I’m dead serious. Have you been lately? The Library is a repository of knowledge and a curator of culture. It has workshops, readings, movies, and concerts – for kids and adults – FREE OF CHARGE. Say it with me: “The Library! It’s not just books!”
Well technically it’s not free either. We pay for it with our tax money. Which is why it’s infuriating when the community is threatened with Library budget cuts, staff layoffs, reduced hours, and branch closings. Politicians and Library advocates do this budget dance every year. How about next year we don’t and say we did? I’ll see your unsustainable sports stadium, that only a handful of people want, and raise you a fully-staffed, stocked, and extended-hours Library branch that everybody can use.
It’s easy to think that the Internet and fast access to information has replaced our need for a neighborhood Library. It hasn’t. Don’t assume everybody has a Kindle or an iPad with affordable cloud access. They don’t. But if you do The Library lets you download books, music, and movies 24-hours a day. It makes my unabridged audiobook addiction affordable. Sure, I can order them instantly from Audible or Amazon, but it’s hard to beat free.
So you don’t have to physically go to The Library to enjoy what it has to offer. But when you do you’re not stepping into some old and dusty book mausoleum, cut off from the outside world. The Library has wifi. Free. Wifi. Not. Just. Books.
As you can see, I’m biased. I was the little kid my Mom took me to Story Hour. I was the teenager who hung out at The Library with my friends after school. Did I ever kiss a boy in the stacks? Absolutely! And if you haven’t I highly recommend it. Hell, I hope I get to do it again. (What’s better than literature and love?) I’ve gone to workshops, jewelry making classes, and most recently my Library’s Mac Monday classes helped get me up to speed on my MacBook Pro. I’ve even done stand-up comedy shows there. So yeah, that’s why I still go to The Library.
And someday, I might be the senior citizen who shuffles down to my local branch, sits in a comfy chair by the window and watches the little ones listen to The Children’s Librarian read them a story; because The Library is not just books but that’s where it starts.