Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I Love the Public Library

I am a lifelong devotee of the public library. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the public library in Houston. I can still remember struggling to sign my name on my first library card. I remember the layout of the children's section, the dark carpeting, the water fountain in the alcove. I remember my dad putting my sister (who was a skinny little thing) into the canvas library book bag and swinging her as he walked down the hallway of our house. (That's how sturdy a book bag we needed for all those books.)  Later in life I always felt at home in my college library despite the ugly, dated decor and musty smells. After college I frequented the public library in Annapolis, MD, and then again in Madison, WI. I also spent many an hour (days??) in the university libraries in Madison. After that we moved to Mexico and tried in vain to find a library in Torreón. It is a large city in the middle of the desert with a population of about a million people. There was one library. ONE. For a million people. And it was the size of my living room and all of the books were at least 30 years old. That made me so sad. It still does. After Torreón we came to Austin, where I have frequented four branches and the main city library for the last ten years. We sometimes make special trips to branches we don’t know just for fun.

I still find it nothing short of amazing that I can go to a public library and pick out nearly any book I want and take it home with me. For three weeks or more! And I can put a hold on anything in the library system that I want and they will transfer it to my branch and hold it on a shelf for me with my name on it until I come and get it. And all this for free! (I do, of course, pay for this service through my taxes, and I am glad to do so. But the service is free to all city residents.) I am sure that I have saved thousands of dollars on books, CD's, and DVD's over the years just by using the library. The public library is really an unsung resource. I have tackled many a project with the knowledge gleaned from a library book, gained inspiration from countless borrowed titles, and saved a heap of money in the process. I don't have a Netflix account and I haven't rented a movie in at least 7 years. We just put holds on the movies we want to see and they arrive on the library hold shelf with our names on them. I only buy a book if I find myself repeatedly checking it out from the library. The kids really like reading new books every night before bed so we always check out at least 20 or 30 picture books. We own hundreds of children’s books but it is so lovely to have new and different books all the time, too.

The aftermath of a family trip to the downtown library.
I hope that my children get as much joy out of the library as I do. Every indication is that they do. Recently my 9-year old told me, “Mom, I love coming to the library. No matter how I feel when I walk in here I always leaving feeling good.”


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