I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I got my first personal library card. It was before I was eight, since it was before my mother passed away and she was the one who was there with me. I do remember the feeling of pride and awe. Now I could check out books all on my own, and as many as my little arms could carry. Having access to a whole library is a quite the feeling of power. This is something I hope that everyone everywhere feels upon receiving their very first library card.
Sadly though, this was followed by a feeling of powerlessness for the year following my mother’s death. I lived with an aunt and cousin in Houston. Since we were only supposed to only be there a year, we didn’t get our own library cards. My sister and I relied on my cousin for library loans. This meant going to the library only when it was convenient for her, an unwelcome change from our parents taking us whenever we asked. It also lead to recreational reading being kept from us as disciplinary measures. This is something that I am still embittered by almost thirty years later. In addition to having lost my mother I had lost the ability to freely foster the love of reading she helped instill in me.
Since that experience, getting a library card has always been a priority for me no matter where I’ve lived. I lived in Fallbrook, California for nine months to support my husband through the last leg of his enlistment and still got a library card for the on-base branch. I just couldn’t, and still can’t, go through any period of time without some type of access to a library’s catalog. Heck, I went through mini withdrawals recently due to no longer being in the ‘proper’ area for my city’s library. This mean I was no longer eligible for a permanent resident card. I am eligible for the ‘Limited Access’ one which softened the blow but that comes with restrictions so it is still an adjustment.
The reasoning for this lifestyle choice isn’t unique from other book dragons. I almost always have to have a book at hand. Like Belle, I navigate book in hand and manage not to fall prey to things thrown out of windows, or high speed wagons on the road. There is also an insatiable desire inside me to collect and hoard more books. But I am without an endless supply of money to support this habit. So, libraries are a source for me. While most kids might have preferred parking in front of their TV for the (then) 104 days of summer vacation, my sister and I cheerfully walked to our local branch with our backpacks every two weeks to turn in and replenish our book supply. I’m confident the librarians always got a thrill from seeing us walk away with anticipatory grins on our faces.
The library became a safe space for me in middle school since those years were pure hell. While I know now that is not necessarily a unique experience, it is an accurate assessment of those three years. It became the place where I would hide out when the teasing voices got too loud. A place to tuck myself away when my few friends and I had different lunch periods. I was a library assistant my eighth grade year and still have dreams of becoming a librarian. That dream is pretty much deferred though since I don’t have Masters of Library Science money.
This desire to use the library as a safe haven didn’t disappear with high school either. Even after finding my own merry band of misfits there, I regularly would seek out library for peace and quiet. When I was a stay-at-home-mom, the library was also a haven for me to break out of the monotony of day to day tasks. It became a way to interact with other adults during baby lap sit time. It was also a place to escape to by myself when I just had to get out of the house. Those trips also gave me the opportunity to pick books out at my own leisure.
Honestly, my happy place still is any type of library. The elementary school that my son attended had a Hogwarts theme, complete with floating candles, and I fan-girled every time I walked in. I’m confident that I will find time walk up and down the aisles of the library at his middle school. Hopefully I’ll find for books for both of us to read together, or just me on my own. Libraries calm and center me. And now they do so much more than when I was growing up, and truly are a pillar of the community.
It genuinely pains me whenever anyone says that libraries are obsolete. Whoever holds that opinion isn’t paying attention. While I generally prefer reading, I don’t totally snub TV and have used the various DVD collections to marathon shows, catch up on new movies, or revisit old favorites. They provide Internet services to their patrons, which grants access families who may not be able to afford it on their own. They loan out laptops and tablets for a set period of time or even ties for job interviews. Classes are offered to help teach new skills for every generation. They can also be a social hub since most offer a variety of book clubs now, along with knitting clubs and, for some of the branches I frequent, ukulele clubs.
Bottom line? Libraries are just flat out amazing in how they foster togetherness in a community. Like most wines, they have only gotten better with age. I will always be a champion them because, as dismal as this world can be, it would be a whole lot bleaker without libraries in it. They are a balm for the weary, and a bastion of endless knowledge for the curious. Endless knowledge, entertainment, and resources are at your fingertips, and you need is a little plastic card.
Or in my particular case, four.