Monday, September 13, 2010

The "Life-Brary"

My three year old son and I have been visiting the library lately. His older brother has started kindergarten and goes to the school library once a week. This weekly visit made a great impression on my younger son. He is enthralled with the library. He likes going up the big staircase (it's a lot dark and a little spooky) to the children's floor. He likes the child-sized computers with colored keyboards that link him to some very fun games (Sesame Street and the like). He likes finding new Curious George books to check out. He likes the dated displays in the glass cases. He likes climbing on the step stools in the adult section and jumping off of them. He likes taking the hard back books off the shelves he can reach just for fun. I don't know if I'm raising a reader or just a curious tornado of energy.
My favorite thing about the library is that he calls it, the "life-brary". I cannot get him to say library. However, upon reflection, I think the "life-brary" is quite appropriate. I've been going to the library all my life.
I remember with great nostalgia all the wonderful opportunities I had at the Asheboro/Randolph County Public Library growing up. My first piano recital was held there. The children's section was well stocked. The Randolph Room held interesting facts that I used for my fourth grade N.C. History project. I spent two years on the Battle of the Books team reading Newberry Medal Winners and participating in a quiz bowl type program (Incidentally, Farmer Elementary School wiped the floor with the city schools for several years. In fact, I'm not sure we ever lost before the program was cut, but we might have.) I remember going to the library with my mother and sister once a week checking out seven books at a time (the maximum), one for each day. I spent many hours learning to research at the public library back before computers when the magazines had to be checked out and the card catalog was more than a dusty row of boxed cards. How many 3x5 index cards did I go through researching information on great American and British authors for my research papers in middle and high school? After about two years in high school, I graduated to the Randolph Community College Library because they had other research materials I couldn't get at the public library.
Later in my college life, the library became even more than a pit stop for books. I spent many hours copying reserve reading to take elsewhere to read (ditto for graduate school). I spent many nights trolling the study carols for a cute guy from my political science class to ask a stupid yet relevant question in the hopes he might talk to me for five minutes. I learned how to use theInternet at the E.H. Little Library. I even walked to the Georgetown University library from my basement bedroom in a row house in Georgetown to check my email, because I didn't have a computer. It's amazing how many significant (and literary) opportunities I have had at the library.
And after college, the library remained a significant part of my life. I spent many Sunday afternoons and rainy days at the main library in Memphis (back when it was right off of Union behind the Walgreens before moving to its new and beautiful location on Poplar in East Memphis). Then when we moved to Iowa City, one of the first things I did was visit the library and get my library card. I spent many many mornings and afternoons and evenings rolling my older son in the stroller up and down the aisles of popular adult fiction and seven day check out looking for something to read. So of course when we settled in Chattanooga, I went to the library and got my library card right away.
I park in my husband's old office building lot and walk two blocks to Nirvana. Okay, Nirvana is a little strong--the library is unfortunately in serious need of refurbishing, but the book selection remains strong, and the people who work there are quite lovely and helpful. I have yet to leave the library empty handed. Today Wyatt and I left with H.A. Rey's Curious George Rides a Bike, Lois Ehlert's Growing Vegetable Soup, Phillipa Gregory's The Red Queen, Aldous Huxley's, Brave New World, and the first in the Magic Tree House series for big brother. Our front porch swing remains a favorite spot to read besides mommy's bed.
My boys love Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. So do I. And we spend quite a bit of time there too. After all they have a train table, new releases that don't require a hold or a long wait time, and a bakery. But the feeling just isn't the same. The library is an exercise in patience--waiting on that new release or popular author makes the book that much better. And if you don't like a book, you don't feel disappointed that you paid 27.95 for it. In fact, these days I go online and look up all the new releases and make myself a list. Then I go shopping--at the library. When they don't have it "in-stock" I ask to be put on the waiting list. If only everything were so simple.
The library is also an exercise in cherishing and taking care of intellectual property that doesn't belong to us. You start simple, "This isn't our book, you can't draw on the faces with purple crayon." Then you graduate to, "Turn in the book on time or you have to pay a fine (Even though it's only 25 cents a day, it adds up, believe me, I've been late often)." Learning to reference and cite works in your papers correctly is not only required for the assignment, it's the right thing to do. Finding the actual source of quoted information instead of quoting a quote is challenging and also good practice in checking your sources.
So thanks little Wyatt for your innocent insight into a wonderful tradition. The public library really is a "life-brary". I love sharing this special experience with you. I hope that our libraries never become obsolete. In light of the crunch for public funds and the pervasiveness of the Internet, I am going to investigate how to support our public library and start donating (beyond my late fees) because the library has been a part of my life that I have long taken for granted. It would be a real shame to let such a unique institution become extinct. Next time you're downtown, hug your librarian and go check out life at the "life-brary"!