In the beginning:
I never actually saw a public library growing up. My first experience as a child was in school in second grade. Our teacher lectured us on library etiquette; be very quiet, don’t run, keep every book in order, don’t damage the books, be polite to the librarian. If these rules weren’t followed to the letter we could be taken back to the classroom and lose our library privileges for the week.
She then lined us in single file and marched us down the hall to the school library – that one room with shelves and shelves of books. For me it was the equivalent of walking into a palace. My imagination had always been a little wild, but this place gave it wings. I could choose any three books I liked and take them home for a week. I could close myself off from the outside world and wander through different places real and imaginary. I could spend hours with puppies or pirates, giants or gnomes. This was the most exciting thing that had happened to me thus far.
The day came when second grade ended leaving me alone, bookless, bored. The only thing to do was make up stories in my mind. But oh how I longed for those shelves of bound pages with colorful illustrations.
A miracle happened when I was in fourth grade. Our town’s first bookmobile parked in the drugstore lot just six blocks from my house. Yes, that’s how old I am. I had access to the written word all twelve months of the year. Still we were required to be quiet and respectful of the librarian and her books. The world would have surely come to an end had my library card been revoked.
Fast forward to now:
Earlier this week I walked into my local library and complete chaos. The center of the main room had been cleared to make way for rows of computer desks. There were people looking at recipes, cars, Facebook, swip-swap, but not one reading the news or any worthwhile articles. Some people were holding conversations with their neighbors while others talked on their phones. One lady stood and shouted to the librarian that she was having problems with her computer. To my astonishment the librarian shouted back that she’d be over in a minute.
A young woman followed me in with her four school aged children and told them they could each pick out a movie. Yes, a movie. They didn’t go near the books.
Another woman came in to post and hand out fliers for an up-coming event. She stopped by everyone there to tell them about it. I can’t tell you what the event was. She passed me by. Maybe that was due to the low growl that spontaneously emitted from my throat when she approached.
When I entered the next room I found a line of computers set up with games. Kids ranging from six to sixteen were loudly competing for world dominance. Behind them was a row of chairs with more kids to take their place as soon as their time was up. I imagine they spend the day switching back and forth.
One thing I didn’t see was a single person reading. I suppose the ones who grew up like me had left to the peace and quiet of their own homes. I know that’s what I did.
When was the last time you visited your library? Did you notice any changes?