Celebrate National Library Week with a Good Read

We’re slap bang in the middle of National Library Week! 3 cheers for libraries - hip, hip, hooray! This year’s theme is Libraries Transform. Maybe you haven’t been to a library since elementary school, or maybe you go every week. I bet you don’t really give a thought to the value of the library though, do you? You can use this handy calculator from the American Library Association to find out what exactly you save when you use your library’s resources. This week alone, my library has saved me $124.00. I’ve downloaded one audiobook for $15, borrowed one DVD for $4, read six newspapers for $57, and spent four hours on their wireless for $12/hour. I guess that DVD price is assuming you’d go to the Redbox rather than purchasing the DVD. And that’s not taking into account the fact that I couldn’t take out the book I wanted because somebody else had it. They also aren’t giving the full retail value for audio books and are only really giving Trade Paperback prices, rather than Hardback prices. That’s $17 versus $40. I get that they want to estimate low, but how many of us prefer a hardback anyway? Raise your hand. I had mine in the air.

But back to how libraries transform. Transform what, you may ask. Well, given the chance, libraries can transform just about anything. Take for instance my local library. We’re in a pretty rural county. A lot of the people who come in to use the library are there because they don’t have access to the internet at home. They need to find directions to somewhere. Or they need to search for a job. Maybe they need to print their pay stub or do their taxes. Sometimes they’ll even do their homework. I’ve even met a guy who is applying for a patent and using the library’s computers to type his patent application documentation. Sometimes they’re there just to use Facebook. But so what? Socialization is important. The internet is a wonderful thing. It lets people communicate in real time with friends and family members who live thousands of miles away, in different countries. So I never begrudge someone their hour on Facebook, even if they’re ahead of me in line. Who knows what they’re doing? I’ve used Facebook messenger to talk a friend off a (non-literal) ledge, and counseled her on what to do about an abusive boyfriend. I couldn’t have done that without Facebook.

The transformation here is internal, and not visible to those who fund libraries. That’s why this year’s ALA campaign is so vital. One of the promotional pieces is poster-sized speech bubbles that patrons can fill in and say how their libraries help them. Ways libraries help aren’t always the ways you expect. Sometimes the library is the only safe place a person can go to. What if your air conditioner goes out in the middle of summer? You can sit in the library for free and enjoy their air. Our library hosts English as a Second Language classes three nights a week in a partnership with the local community college. The county library has at least four story times a week for children. Libraries are one of the places where all segments of society come to for information and entertainment. The people I’ve met at my library run the spectrum of American society. And they’re all nice. Maybe we won’t all become bosom friends, but we’ll certainly nod to each other on the street or at the supermarket.

Okay, okay. When am I going to talk about the books?! Ah books. Where to start? Well, how about we start with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This book, written in 1961, is about a boy named Milo. He’s bored with everything and considers his whole life a waste of time. He has no interest in school or learning, and certainly has no interest in bettering himself as a human. Milo is mysteriously gifted with a tollbooth that when used transports him to a world where everything is much more literal. He meets a Whether Man, who can’t tell you the weather, a diminutive constable named Shrift who is also a judge, and a dog with a clock in his belly whose name is Tock but only makes tick sounds and becomes upset when Milo tells him that he’s just killing time. In the beginning of the book, Milo is a spoiled child who doesn’t use his noggin for anything. By the time Milo goes back through the tollbooth to his bedroom he’s realized that learning can open up so many opportunities and by just cruising through life without using his brain, he was doing himself a disservice. This is just the kind of transformation that libraries aspire to. One of my librarian’s favorite sayings is “you can’t justify to policy-makers the value of a library. They’ll never see a positive return on investment if you’re only talking about money. The value is between your ears. How do you measure that? How do you measure education? A well-informed populace is far more valuable than money.” I think she’s right. That’s what libraries do. They increase the value of what’s between your ears. Now please, pick up a book and enjoy!

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2016