Friday, June 28, 2013

The Beauty of Libraries

I have always loved reading.  As a child, I read during literally every spare moment - during meals, while walking, in the car, at the occasional symphony concert, even guiltily beneath my desk at school during particularly suspenseful parts.

But I came rather late to public libraries.  My parents were of the mindset that money spent on books is never wasted, so we were bookstore people more than library people growing up. Libraries for me brought to mind dusty, old, outdated books, not the flashy new covers to be found in the local Barnes and Noble.

Finally, as a full-time volunteer fresh out of college with an $85 monthly stipend, I discovered the infinite possibilities presented by the humble local library. For the first time in 17 years, I was not a student, and the free time was intoxicating. The freedom to choose my own reading, to read as much or as little as I wanted, to be accountable to no one for what I read... oh, bliss.  It helped that I worked around the corner from the main branch of the Baltimore Public Library, a lovely, expansive historic building with almost any book I could want.

I learned that I could place a hold on a book that was checked out, or even request that the library purchase new books that weren't in the system.  I learned that most libraries try to keep up on new releases, so that the books at my library are very often the same as those at the bookstore or on Amazon.  And I learned that books are just the beginning of what libraries offer, which also includes DVDs (both educational and popular), magazines, databases for personal research, audio and digital books, song downloads, even classes.

Now we only very rarely buy books.  And maybe I have to wait a few weeks for a book I want to read, or a new-release movie - and so what?  The anticipation is part of the fun, and I'm much more likely to read a book cover to cover if I've had to "earn" it by waiting (ironically, even more so than if I've actually earned it by paying money!).

The library DVDs have been a welcome and surprising addition to our movie nights, as we've seen many films we might not otherwise see.  For kids, the library allows us to read and possess 15 or more new picture books every couple of weeks, some lovingly packed into themed book bags to minimize the time and effort required of parents. As a crafter, I have often found a recipe or knitting pattern in a large volume that I would not otherwise buy or use.  And let's not forget about story time for kids, classes and book groups for adults, and the informed and enthusiastic advice of knowledgeable librarians when I need help choosing new books for a specific child.

Did I mention that all of this is FREE (through the wonderful prepayment plan of local taxes)???  I would estimate that we've saved hundreds or thousands of dollars on books, or, more likely, simply read hundreds more books than we would have if we were limited to books we had to purchase.

The best part is that once we're done with the books, they go back for someone else to enjoy - no collecting dust and taking up physical and mental space ("I bought that book; I really should read it sometime...").

We do have and treasure a personal library, and I very much respect my parents' attitude that money spent on books is never wasted.  But I am happy that my children are getting to know and love the beauty of the shared library.

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