I grew up going to the library every week. My mom would load my sister and me into the car, drive us into town, and we would read and search there to our delight. I’ve no memory of what my mother did while we were there – whether she came in with us and went off hunting for her own selection of borrowed treasure, or (probably more likely) took the opportunity of an hour or so without any kids to do shopping or other errands that would be easier without the pair of us than with us.
As I grew older, in those days before the Internet, I needed the library to do research for school papers and projects. I needed the reference section as well as the non-fiction section, and yes I was a pro with the card catalog. I had to be. Like my kid can search the Internet today for the information he needs, I could search the card catalog and the shelves.
I went off to college and spent a lot more time studying in the library than doing research there. And I don’t recall ever going to the library in hunt of a recreational read during college. Maybe it was too big; maybe I just associated it too much with work. Whatever the reason, I started doing my recreational perusing in bookstores.
I still do that – and it can be quite the expensive habit. But except for that collegiate interlude, I’ve never really gotten away from the library, either. Even when I first was out of college, I made regular visits to my local public library, and found a whole lot of wonderful reading material. My favorite libraries have always been ones with browsing sections, where books face forward on the shelf to show the covers and there’s no obvious sense of organization. I like to just wander and see what catches my eye.
Not just books
Unlike the hometown library of my childhood, the current offerings in my library go way beyond books. I can and do borrow movies, music and even ebooks. My local library has art on the walls, a dedicated exhibit space, meeting rooms, and a reception/lecture room. It hosts open mic nights and video gaming contests for teens, trivia contests and theatrical programs, and even an annual pie-baking contest that I entered a few years back.
The wealth of material available at the library came up in a conversation with friends recently, as we sat talking around the table after dessert – a dessert that only happened, incidentally, because I saw an interesting cookbook featured on my library’s website, checked it out and was inspired to bake a cake so rich that my husband and I couldn’t possibly be trusted to be in the house alone with it. Here we were, sharing an evening’s entertainment that was inspired by a library book, and one of my friends mentioned that he has largely stopped buying new music because he found that most of what interests him is available to him through the library. He checks regularly to see what new releases are coming in, reserves them and brings them home for a few weeks of listening. I do this as well, although not focused particularly on new releases. I still buy music, but I also use my library to explore the full range of an artist’s work and decide what it is that I really want to purchase.
So library kismet seems to be everywhere, and library love as well. Consider this, then, a big group hug for public libraries and librarians, who seem to be some of the most creative people around. Libraries are branching out more and more, and finding innovative ways to stay at the center of their communities; and it’s working. Internet or no Internet, people still go to their public libraries and find both learning and community there. I’m not the only one who has noticed.
By the way, in case you’re interested, here’s the cake that inspired the dessert gathering:
And here’s the cookbook that inspired the cake:
My advice: Go see what cookbooks your public library has to offer.