Our local library has a newly-minted patron. Raised from knee-high to be one of the library’s most enthusiastic supporters, Miss Isadora is now officially a card-carrying member. It was a proud day in our house.
Perhaps one of the most important milestones since walking or potty training, getting her library card was a pretty fantastic fringe benefit of turning 5. We read over the agreement together, emphasizing the specific responsibilities of having her own card. She signed her name ‘Isadora promises,’ in what must be the most sincere library card application in some time. Gosh, I was proud.
How can I fully express our collective love for the library? They had me at ‘free books.’ A literary all-you-can-eat smorgasbord which has made it possible for me to locate and place on hold no less than forty children’s Halloween books last week. Forty. For free, or a few bucks here and there in overdue fines, which I happily write off as charitable donations. (figuratively speaking)
Lest I come across as a glutton, I must go on to say the library has given us so much more than books. When we moved to the area, we lamented the fact that we were neither a school-bound nor church-going family, as those are among the most common ways to meet people when you’re new in town. Young Isadora and I set off for the library with high hopes of finding a spot for us within the community. We discovered toddler story time and attended almost religiously. Through story time, I caught wind of a new group for knitters that was just beginning to meet weekly at the library. I knit! So I went, not knowing what to expect. To my great surprise, I found that I wasn’t alone here at all – there were all kinds of fantastic women with common interests. A year later, it was this same group of women, my dear Knitting Friends, who showered our home with unbelievably delicious home cooked meals in those early days after Errol’s birth. Really, Library – you had me at free books. Finding these friends (in town!) was so much more than I bargained for.
The arrival of our new Library Director marked a turning point for our small town, at least as far as I can tell. Being so close to Madison, our town lies dangerously close to that trap of ‘bedroom community,’ where the identity of the place is defined more by ‘a short drive to the city’ and less by a strong sense of community, where people come out of their houses and interact within the town. As a town, we’ve been unable to consistently support restaurants or gift shops, and who knows what other businesses that would give this place a unique flavor. Our new Library Director, however, came in on a gust of fresh air and hasn’t stopped fanning the fires of library-centered community-building since. Her enthusiasm has become a beacon, pulsing from Main Street, drawing us all inside to partake in the plethora of newly-spawned library events…together.
I used to feel guilty or a little lazy, even, when taking advantage of the option to place books from other libraries within the system on hold and have them delivered to my library of choice. I’d wince a bit, after putting a whole list of things on hold, imagining all the work involved to pull and cart over and shelve the books so that I could waltz in and pick them up. Turns out this is the bread and butter of a vibrant library. Turns out they love me for it! The more titles that are circulated through my library, the more usage is shown, and the more funding they receive. You don’t say! The more funding they receive, the more new titles they’re able to bring in, the more programs they’re able to offer, the more our lives are potentially enriched. Think it doesn’t matter if you habitually visit a (better) neighboring library? It does! It’s yet another case of Shop Local for a Better Community. Besides that, my librarians know my name. I rarely have to pull out my card to check something out; my overdue books get renewed on the spot. My librarians are hubs of the community network. It’s how we found our babysitters. How we made all kinds of other connections for this or that in town. My librarians have bought eggs and chickens from us; shared a seat at swimming lessons. They’ve recommended, at the drop of a hat, a dozen titles to read in that difficult ‘too-post-partum-hormonal-to-read-anything-too-serious-or-sad’ phase following Errol’s birth.
Our librarians are how we’ve found a place here in our town, and some pretty compelling reasons to take pride in that place.