There’s a meme/graphic floating around on Facebook about the importance of libraries and how they are safe havens for the vulnerable. I felt inclined to share it because it resonated with me so much. As I started to really think about it, it occurred to me that in every stage of my life, the library has played an essential role.
- As a child it was a place for us to kill time after school when our parents were still at work. I remember the 19th century brick of the Bennington Free Library: probably the first place I felt a sense of independence. I could snuggle into the pillows of the children’s section, and borrow movies for FREE! I learned about the Birds & the Bees by a particularly humorous educational cartoon from this library lol . Before entering, I had to gather my courage to pass by the gaggle of teenagers who had laid claim to the front steps, drinking cokes and skateboarding off the handrails. I celebrated each tiny victory
- As a teenager I would sneak off to the Romance section and peruse through the naughty parts of each book, too ashamed to check one out, but powered by hormones nonetheless. The thrill of hiding among the stacks while reading adult things was kind of simple pleasure for a 14 year-old. As a young artist, I would wander through the community-featured paintings that libraries often display, wondering if my art would one day be on the wall. As a young writer, I was overjoyed to be invited to recite one of my poems (in front of an audience!) at the library. In the days before Siri, I knew the answers to any question I had could be found beyond those walls.
- As a college student, I learned how to navigate microfilm, studying an America almost alien to my modern self. Like Indiana Jones, I delved into the ancient tomes: detective to a different era. Before Wikipedia, libraries were key to my success in college. They were also an escape from the chaos of the dorms. The ONLY place that guaranteed quiet.
- As a homeless, unemployed pregnant 20-something, the library was literally a godsend. I had no money, no healthcare, no resources of my own. I was scared, uneducated about pre-natal care, and was living 1000 miles from home in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Louisiana. Very few basic services were available, and the library was one of them. I was able to apply for Medicaid, find a doctor, a job, and most importantly read books about taking care of myself and baby. I am eternally grateful for the vital role the St. Tammany Parish Library played in me & my daughter’s life.
- As a thirty-something single mom who eventually started WORKING for the Jefferson County Public Library System, the 2nd largest library system in Colorado, I discovered how diverse, vibrant and extensive library services were. Until then I had no idea the amount of programming goes on, how many non-profits are involved, how connected schools, teachers, parents, social workers, government officials, national organizations, local support groups, and dedicated individuals were to their community libraries. They were energy hubs, buzzing with all types of people and brimming opportunities. Yes, it wasn’t all candy and rainbows. Like any public space, libraries deal with struggles, criticism and misuse.
We may be living in a digital age, where people can download any book they want to their phones, tablets or computers. We can search the internet for any answer we want, and at the blink of an eye can access multitudes of information. But libraries provide more than that. They are safe havens. At every stage in my life, libraries were important to me in essential ways, beyond books and magazines. My life & (now) my daughter’s life are better because of libraries. I was a vulnerable kid, teenager, student, mom-to-be, and worker. And I’m eternally grateful for the resources available to me. Thank you libraries. I’ll always be happy to pay taxes that support you.