Grateful For Public Libraries — A Guest Post

by Katy on September 16, 2009 · 18 comments

Sierra Black
The following is a guest post by Sierra Black, who is a Non-Consumer Advocate reader as well as a freelance writer, inveterate reader and frugal mom living in the Boston area. This post is part of an on-going series she writes called The Gratitude Project, which you can learn more about at her blog, ChildWild.
I was so moved by this column that I asked Sierra if she would be willing to share it with Non-Consumer Advocate readers. I am grateful that she agreed to my request. Thank you Sierra!
Katy Wolk-Stanley
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Grateful for Public Libraries

Rio got her first library card today.

Yesterday we were biking home from somewhere, and she said “Mommy! You and Daddy have a lot of books for you, and for Daddy and for other people, but you have not bought enough books for me and Serena.”

We own, for the record, over 500 books for young children, and at least another 200 books for older kids and young teens.

So I said, “What? You need more books?”

“I need more chapter books!” she shouted. “I am starting kindergarten, and I am going to swimming classes and gymnastics and music lessons. I am growing so big and that is why I NEED MORE CHAPTER BOOKS!”

Chapter books? My baby needs chapter books? I know what to do about a lack of chapter books.

This afternoon, we put her baby sister to nap and biked over to the Somerville library, where I introduced her to the chapter books section. She was exquisite, walking around and around the flimsy wire rack loaded with worn copies of Magic Treehouse books and American Girl novels like a connoisseur. Like a traveler seeing a beautiful exotic island for the first time. Like a kid in a room full of endless books.

We walked all around the chapter book section. I showed her some of my favorites from my own childhood, and helped her read the titles of all the books she showed an interest in. As previously agreed, she selected five books. She never once tried to push that limit. She took about eight books down, and looked carefully at their covers, flipped through them, and chose five.

Then the library card. In our town, one must be at least five to get a library card, which Rio conveniently is. She wrote her name on the form and they issued her a card. After the librarian handed it to her, she walked away from the desk with a look on her face both dreamy and powerful. Two of her best friends came in and she barely saw them, just nodded in their direction and then said, “Let’s walk around the library. Let’s go up these stairs.”

A word here, about our local library. It looks awful outside; a small, old building. Every time we go I wonder when the city will get it together to do a fund drive and build a new one. The children’s room is barely adequate – small, dark, equipped with a threadbare story corner, a few puzzles and a quantity of books that could seem vast only to a very small person.

Since I tend to go there with my kids, I had actually never been upstairs into the adult stacks, but I pictured more of the same. I’m incredibly grateful today that I hadn’t gone up, because when we climbed those stairs we both gasped. The center of the building is open, filling the whole room up with light. Around the perimeter, racks upon racks of books, two stories tall, a balcony skirting the room with more books. Beautiful.

“Can I go in there, Mama?” she said in a whisper.

Yes, little one. We went up the stairs. We looked out the windows and enjoyed the view of the city. “Mama! Look how high we are!”

We sat at a study table tucked away behind a bookcase and read two chapters of a Magic Treehouse book. We went up and down the rows of stacks. She asked me if I knew the man on the cover of a biography. Together we hunted down the section of sewing and handcraft books, and dug through a box of old sewing patterns looking for something she liked. The whole time, she moved and spoke quietly. She treated the library like a church, moving from an inner awareness of the grace in the room.

Finally, she was ready to leave. We went downstairs and she proudly laid her books on the checkout counter and then produced her card. “Don’t get out your card, Mama. Not this time. I am checking these books out.”

She carried them out, put them in her own bike basket, and proudly rode home.

During the hour we were there, she put that library through its paces. It was as if she understood without being told that the card gave her power over the place. Before, the library belonged to me, to the grown-up world, but today it became hers.

I have to say, there are days when I resent being a stay-at-home mom, and question my choice to give up my journalism career to do this. Today was not one of those days. I might well have traded the chance to write a book in the past five years for that hour in the library with my daughter, but I’m pretty clear it was worth it.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela September 16, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Love it!

Thanks for the great library memories. Beautifully written piece. Okay, I got teary-eye, I’ll admit it.

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Susan Lee September 17, 2009 at 3:51 am

A great piece! It brought me back a few years to our own meandering in the musty library halls…. Our now 15 year old had that powerful card in her pudgy little hands at the age of two and still recalls wonderful memories of hearing stories from “Mother Goose”, our youth librarian who still brings wonderful programs to our children! A personal memory of mine from the library was when I used to visit in the evenings, when Dad would stay with the kids. Walking from one section to another I heard the announcement, “the library will be closing in five minutes….” I thought, “I could be locked in here overnight…..oh how glorious that would be!!” With all the fuss these days about where and how our tax money is spent, this is still one of the most important to me, the public library! Long live the public library!!

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Jessie September 17, 2009 at 5:08 am

My first child is still growing inside me, and yet I already can’t wait to take her to the library for the first time. Every now and again when I visit for myself, I’ll wander through the child’s section, and long for the day that I can share all of it with her. Reading was such an important part of my childhood, and the library is like a limitless playground for the imagination.

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Jinger September 17, 2009 at 5:41 am

Libraries, no matter how big or small always inspire me…to me a library is an adult Disneyland..anything your heart deserves is there for the taking…this is a great post.

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Mandy - Birmingham, AL September 17, 2009 at 6:46 am

Beautiful post. I hope my children are as avid readers as I am.

I just found out my County’s Library Co-Op just had 100% of their funding from the county. It was only a matter of time – Jefferson County, AL is in so much debt it’s unreal. When they finally declare bankruptcy, it will be the biggest amount in US history.

I made a small donation to my library. I will gladly pay more in the future. I canceled my netflix subscription, I could at least put some of the money I was using for that to go to the library. It’s way better than Netflix cause I can check out a 100 items at a time (indluding 10 DVDs and 10 CDs).

It’s tough times for sure!

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shewhosees September 17, 2009 at 8:10 am

This made me cry, and that’s a good thing! Thank you for this beautiful piece.

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fairydust September 17, 2009 at 8:39 am

going to the library with my mom was always such a treat 🙂 I sure do miss those days!

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CentsInTheCity September 17, 2009 at 9:27 am

I can still remember I received my first library card. I was in first grade and so proud! In the summer my mother limited tv time, so often I turned to hours and hours of reading. I have many happy memories of summers at the library, since mine had a summer reading program. I always earned the highest awards available, so not only did I enjoy reading, but I earned rewards. I also utilized the library for the Pizza Hut reading program to earn free pizza. No matter my age or what library I am in, there’s always something magical about it.

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Marcia September 17, 2009 at 11:42 am

Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful piece and a beautiful testament to extremely important institutions.

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Barb McMahon September 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

I remember the day I got my first library card, the feeling of excitement and, yes, power. Thanks for bringing it all back so beautifully!

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Queen Lucia September 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

What a lovely piece! This brought back memories of going to the library with my mom when I was so little. It was in an old building downtown and the children’s area was up big, creaky set of stairs. The library moved to a new building later and as a teenager I would explore every section, shelf by shelf and try to read everything that caught my fancy. Nowadays, our weekend isn’t complete without a visit to the library. Thanks for the library-love!

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Carla September 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm

What a lovely essay. Thank you.

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WilliamB September 17, 2009 at 4:25 pm

That truly is a lovely essay – your journalism skills are standing you in good stead.

I know of a child who is literarily related to yours. One night he was trying to skip bath and proceed straight to story time. After a notable lack of success in implementing his plan he wailed “You don’t care about reading!”

There was a shocked silence.

“Son,” said his dad, finally regaining his voice, “You’re in a room with five thousand books.”

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Karen September 17, 2009 at 9:04 pm

A beautiful piece, brought back wonderful memories of my own childhood library years. Now I’m a grown-up and still going to the library every week.

Thanks, Katy for the link to the free coupon. We’re going to the Denver Art Museum with it. Have never been – too pricey.

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Karen B September 18, 2009 at 5:28 am

I absolutely loved this guest piece! It brought back memories of when I was little and how I felt about going to that magical place called the library!

I hope that everyone who reads this will take the opportunity to introduce a little one to the wonderful world of books!

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Marianne September 18, 2009 at 11:01 pm

As a librarian, it gives me hope that there is a new generation that will still love books.

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