March 22, 2006

PSA: Hug Your Local Librarian

I was reading about the Oakland Library Book Drive from a few years ago, and it made me think about how much I absolutely love libraries. I worry that the advent of computers has caused library patronage to plummet in the last ten years—and understandably so, since no kid writing an essay on snails is going to dig through the heavy ‘S’ volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica when he can just Google it. I wouldn’t. Especially since I remember writing all of my middle school papers (we did not get internet access or computers in my school until 1995) in the library, on word processors, next to a big ol’ stack of reference books, each with many bits of paper markings sticking out the top. There was no copy and paste. There was longhand, and White Out, and you got to print once.

YOU:
“And we LIKED it, we LOVED it!”

ME:
That’s not what I’m saying, here. Straighten up and listen.

YOU:
Hee. Dana Carvey’s funny.

ME:
Focus!

Am I against the internet? Obviously not: I have a weblog. People from New Jersey and Australia could be reading this thing; without online posting, it would be some green ink in a three-ring binder all about how cool I am.* But I am sad that the internet generation won’t ever have to experience “good old-fashioned paper writing” at least once in their lives. The internet is an amazing resource, but the library is all too often an untapped resource. It’s the best show you’re not watching.

I remember when I was in fourth grade, and I got my own personal card to my hometown’s library. I was elated; (because what other card can you get with your name on it when you’re nine? I felt very official) I went there every weekend and some days after school with my friends. It makes me sad that people don’t ever want to “hang out” in the library anymore, without it being a euphemism for something else. Much time was spent listening to The Dance of the Thirteen Skeletons (on vinyl, people; my hometown was small) in my little stripey-sweatpants and those giant sound-booth headphones on. I must have heard that at least fifty times, and I never got tired of it, because I thought it was creepy and awesome. I was really into poetry when I was a kid; I suppose I thought of it as a game to guess the meaning of it from such a small amount of words. I still think that poem has good sibilance, but I didn’t know from parsing poetry back then. I just knew I liked it. And I could listen to it as many times as I want and come back as often as I wanted to hear it and it never occurred to me to ask my parents to buy it, because here in the library, it was free.

Free. Libraries are free. The internet is not free, unless you are in a library or a coffee shop with WiFi, in which case it costs you at least four bucks coffee-tax to sit there for an hour. The library might ask you for a donation, and to pay your fines when you keep a book out too long, but they charge nothing to walk in the door. Nothing to sit down, nothing to stay for as long as you want. No limit on the amount of books you can read, or request, or take out (at my library, anyway), unless you’ve abused the privilege. It’s a place for responsible, quiet people. A good place to go and think. Actually, it promotes thinking, with all the studying that goes on there—I owe quite a few ‘A’s to the random gamma-brainwaves circulating above my head, soaking into the carpet and resting on the old battered couches in the study areas. You could lose track of time and end up writing or reading there for hours, high on a contact smart. It’s probably why I chose to work in the library in college; well, that and I’m a dork with OCD who loves yelling at people for trying to keep textbooks out all year.

When my sister tells me about her kids’ trips to the library, it absolutely makes me want to cry. They love it. They love the books, they love the librarians, and they love the interlibrary loan. Now, these kids could be cuter than Anne Geddes’ potted babies, say cloyingly adorable phrases or sing me the alphabet song ten times with any endearing number of errors—but nothing makes me happier than their loving the interlibrary loan. They have my heart now. They got me. I’m down.

Every book on my reading list comes straight out of the library, for a number of reasons: 1) I can’t afford to run out and buy a sack of books, much as I’d like to 2) If I buy them, it will just mean more books in my house, and I’m going through a minimalist / arson paranoia phase, and 3) it is so totally FREE. I can preview the books before I decide whether I like them enough to buy them. Like renting movies, but you can keep them for a month instead of a day, and without all that pesky money. This is a hell of a draw for a poor kid. Wanna read about poor people? Here ya go.** See how easy that is? Now take that link, copy and paste [*smacks gums* Young whippersnapper!] it into your library’s request site, and wait a few days. They’ll e-mail you when it’s in—they do that now. All you have to do is go get it. Please go get it. Free. Really. Read it—I liked it. Tell me if you did, too. We can get together on this.

*As opposed to being a lackluster web page about how cool I am. It’s not green, though.
** I wasn’t this poor, though. We usually had food.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Libraries scare me. I am not, by nature, a quiet person, and it always bothered me that I couldn't be watching TV while studying. I do enjoy the interlibrary loan, however, as the summer is when I have lots of time, but no money with which to buy books.