The library was rather formative in my early years. I still remember the day I signed up for my very first library card. It was my seventh birthday. I stood at that old hardwood countertop in the big room filled with books, comfy chairs, and the mountain light and signed my name in cursive to the back of the card. I patiently listened while the librarian explained all of my cardholder responsibilities, even though I knew already knew all of the details . And then I dashed to the elevator to go downstairs to the children's section and pick out books that I could check out on my very own.
I visited the library throughout my childhood, but with the most regularity when my second and third grade Latin class met in my local library’s conference room. I was always allowed to pick out books after class. I especially remember my second grade year when I checked out Pride and Prejudice for the first time. I took an early interest in Jane Austen's works because of all the movies I loved watching with my mom and grandmother. I can still remember kneeling on the floor and pulling out the gigantic book - two shelves from the bottom - and flipping through the pages in awe that I could read this book.
I remember feeling that I had access to all the books in the world when I learned about the interlibrary loan. Moments before, I had experienced great disappointment when the library didn’t have Betsy’s Wedding from the Betsy-Tacy series. I was devastated. But then my mom told me about the interlibrary loan and the librarian helped me fill out a form to request the book from another library at that same desk where I signed the back of my library card. It was magical.
Then there was the day that I checked out my first recommendation from a friend.. it was called The Kid who Ran for President. Oh the discussions and imagination that book fueled! I quickly learned that recommendations from friends were as good as gold!
Despite all of these great experiences, I abandoned the public library for a while after my childhood; for years, actually. I relied on school libraries or Amazon and even stopped reading for a season. My guess, is that you did too.
Why do we still need libraries in the age of digital readers and Amazon Prime? What value do they still bring to our reading life? Here are some things that I’ve come to love about the library as an adult:
1. Free Trial & Error
With the library, I get to take books for a test drive. That is, I can read as much or as little of a book as I like without worrying about the cost of the book. I’ve found that I read many more books when I’m not hemming and hawing about where I want to spend my money each month and about which book I would rather own for the long haul. When I check a book out from the library, I am never eliminating the option of purchasing the book. I can always buy the book, even after I’ve read it!
2. Digital Content
My library system has two apps for listening to audiobooks: hoopla and overdrive. Once I downloaded the apps and input my my library card information, I had access to hundreds of audio titles - for free! I can also use the online system to check out kindle books. From the comfort of my couch, I tell the system what books I am interested in and they download to my kindle when they are available and return to the library once they are expired. It’s dreamy! I don’t even have to set foot in a library to use these services.
3. 21st Century Technology
Believe it or not, the library systems have done a remarkable job of utilizing current technology. I can put books on hold from my online account and I receive an email once they are ready for pick up! After that, I walk in, pull my book(s) of the shelf and use the self-checkout machine. The whole process takes under two minutes. Some libraries in my branch even have drive thru windows for picking up and returning books! It’s all quite seamless and accessible.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the public library, it’s current uses and relevancies, check out Biblio Tech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey. (I listened to this one on the library’s app!)
Do you still use the library? What do you love about it?