penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Love your Library

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Neil Gaiman is an author and man of many words.  And worlds. He has written some of my favourite comic books (Sand Man, Book of Magic), novels (Stardust, Neverwhere) and children’s books (The Wolves in the Walls, Fortunately the Milk). 

This week, a quote from Mr. Gaiman appeared in my Facebook stream, “It’s still National Library Week. You should be especially nice to a librarian today, or tomorrow.  Sometime this week anyway.  Probably the librarians would like tea. Or chocolates.  Or a reliable source of funding.” 

The key reason why I love Mr. Gaiman – humorous but always dead on.

I also worry about the libraries. 

I don’t know what I would do without them.

Libraries shaped me from a young age.  My mom often took us (all three of us lunatics and my brother pretending to be a dog half the time – I can hardly imagine it) on the half hour bus ride down to the library in the centre of our town.  We could pick out whatever we wanted off the shelves.  After reading a book about Terry Fox and becoming terrified of getting cancer at the age of ten, my mom quietly wondered it was such a great idea for us to have free range, but she never changed her policies.

When I was in grade school, and subject to the mild social bullying that young geeky girls are subjected too, my library was a fortress that protected me.  Or the sensitive librarian took pity on me. Either way, I was allowed to stay in and put away books during the lunch hours.  I started in the picture books section, but moved on to learn the Dewey decimal system pretty quickly. 

As I grew older as a high school and university student, libraries were a quiet place of solitude and research.  When it was too loud in residence, I knew that there was always a quiet cubby space tucked away in a corner carrel.   During that time, I noticed that libraries were already starting to bridge the gap between old school microfilm and cutting edge Interwebs.

When my children were born, l again discovered the library as a place of refuge – as well as a place where I could meet other moms in my community.  I brought my barely five month old to story time, where librarians would sing songs and recommend picture books.  My three year olds were treated to puppet shows and book-related videos.  No sign up. No charge.

I know that libraries provide other, not so obvious services.  I know friends who have used it as a work place when they are unemployed – a home office away from home with free wi-fi and a studious atmosphere that mimic their old work spaces. It helps them get down to business faster, and get back on their own feet.  I know homeless people also find shelter where they can read, relax and fall asleep in a chair and not be questioned.  A mom can bring her fussy baby in from the excessive cold or heat and find comfort (I can’t tell you how many times we have wound up at the library for hours just to use the air conditioning).  Free internet services are given to the student and the new immigrant alike access when they might not able to afford them otherwise.  There is access to a multitude of workshops covering a variety of subjects and tastes.

As always there are all those books, free for the taking (you can even borrow them on your e-reader).

To quote my son “It’s better than a bookstore.  I can take books. And when I am done with them, I can bring them back. No cost!”

He has it all figured out.

But there are those who don’t see the value of the library.  They look to the future of e-books and say “but what is it for?”  They don’t see all the extra value that a library holds as a community hub, a centre of excellence, a place of research, a refuge. 

Even at my kids’ own school they don’t call it a “library” any more. They call it a “learning commons.”  What the heck is that?  Water down the brand, and eventually it means nothing to anyone.  And something that means nothing is easy to get rid of.

I look to the cautionary tale of the Library of Alexandria.    The burning of that library ended in untold losses.  And the beginning of the dark ages.  I am concerned that a loss of the modern library is already happening and will bring about the beginning of another societal dark age that is difficult to understand or predict.

I would also argue that access to the Interwebs isn’t enough.  It can’t replace the value and service that a library holds.  It can’t replace the human touch.

To quote Mr. Gaiman again, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

So, while National Library Week has come and gone, I encourage you to love your library.  I would recommend you use it, or you will lose it, and you won’t know what you are missing until it is long gone.

And while you are at it, talk to your local politician about that reliable source of funding.  I can guarantee you, it’s a better gift than all the tea and chocolates to the librarians – as well as to the community and yourself.

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Written by pennyinacastle

April 22, 2014 at 2:27 am

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