Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lost in the Library

The best memories of my childhood didn’t happen on birthdays or holidays. They happened on Tax Rebate Day. On this day, my mother would arrive home carrying a large cardboard box, its flaps barely containing the treasures within. I would then pounce on the box and tear it open to grab what was inside, the most exciting gift possible: new books. Fanning the crisp pages, I would breathe in the faint smell of ink, paper, and dust. After reading the summaries on the book jackets, I would then carefully select my first read, curl up in a comfortable chair, and lose myself within the pages. Looking back, I realize that my appreciation for books stemmed from my mother making reading a priority despite our strained financial situation. Even after Tax Rebate Day, my mother would make time during her busy work schedule to bring me to the local public library and wait patiently while I made the impossible choice of deciding which books to borrow. I never wanted to leave the library. I walked inside and I was home, surrounded by familiar faces and friends. In the library I could be completely myself, a nerdy, inquisitive, and ambitious girl, who didn’t quite fit into my conservative community. Libraries served as a gateway to new worlds, and continue to act as ‘wardrobes’ to amazing possibilities.

In our time of economic crisis, libraries are under attack as “luxuries” and “expendable” parts of our society. This could not be further from the truth. Library usage increases exponentially when people are suffering financially. More than offering excellent resources for job seekers, libraries provide a warm, calming space to gather one’s strength and face the world. As I look at the tableau of human life at my library, I spy young mothers with their excited children, vocal teenagers, elderly people, and shy hipsters. Each has come to the library for a different purpose, and yet, the library will fit their needs. This week (April 11-17) is National Library Week, and it should give us pause to consider how our lives are enriched by libraries and librarians. I visit my local library, the Northtown branch of Chicago Public Libraries, at least once a week. Sometimes I go there more often than Jewel (gasp!). I asked my friends on Facebook to offer suggestions of how to show my appreciation for these librarians, which included books, drugs, action figures, and an assortment of cheese. The best (and most practical) advice came from Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, Chains, and Wintergirls. She said to send “a copy of the letter you send to local and state officials explaining how much you appreciate the work of that librarian, and how pleased you are that taxpayer dollars provide such a great community benefit. That, and flowers." I plan on doing just that, and including chocolate to add a personal touch. Whatever you do to recognize your local librarian, it’s time to show our support and gratitude.

Other suggestions to show your appreciation:

1. Simply tell them thank you and how much you appreciate their hard work.

2. Donate books to your local library.

3. Write a thank-you note to the person (parent, guardian, friend) who encouraged you to use the library.

4. Create a homemade card, poster, or bookmark.

5. Participate in events at your library.

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