When I got my library card, that’s when my life began. ~Rita Mae Brown
Apparently, this week is National Library Week, described on the American Library Association’s website as “a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use.”
The theme for this year is “Lives change @ your library”. Anyone who believes that books change lives, like I do, has to believe that libraries change lives too. After all, libraries are where you find books. It’s difficult for me to imagine how different a person I would be if I hadn’t had access to libraries as a child. I’ve been blessed by many libraries, from my mother’s home library to having access to millions of books through my local library and Interlibrary Loan. My mother had a sizeable book collection and what I loved about it was that it was fluid. New books were always coming in. My primary school library used to open just twice a week, during lunchtime. I would always be first in line, 10 minutes before opening time, waiting patiently for the wooden doors to open and let me in. When I finished working my way through the entire collection, I pestered my sister to get me books from the library at her high school.
There was a local library near our house, but I didn’t go there much. It was a rather depressing place. Fortunately, my high school has a great library that I still rate as one of my favourite places in the world. That place was like a second home especially in the last two years of high school. I spent any time I was not in class in the library, stocking up on classics and reading magazines that I couldn’t find anywhere else. And when I got tired of reading, I would walk along the shelves until I got to M in the fiction section. There, I would look to see where my book would fit in when I finally got my first novel published.
What do you think of when you hear the word library? Old? Stuffy? A place filled with books? To believe that libraries are simply a place that houses books is to misunderstand the modern library. Like many things, the library has undergone vast changes in the last decade or two due to the internet and rapid technological advances. You don’t just go to the library to get books. You go there to get dvds, cds, books on cd and audiobooks. You can download eBooks for your Kindle, Nook, Android phone or whatever device it is you do your reading on. You can access the internet, print documents, scan to PDF or fax. You can take computer classes, learn to knit, or join a foreign language conversation club. Our local library even has a 3-D printer! Libraries not only provide you with information, but the tools to find even more things.
When I think libraries, I think of a place filled with infinite worlds where dreams are created. I think equality. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the growing inequality in this country and around the world as the gulf between the rich and the poor continues to grow. I believe one of the things that fuels this gap is computer access and lack of. One child grows up with a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet and an e-reader. The other lives just above the poverty line and their parent can only afford the absolute necessities. How can that poor child ever catch up? The library is how.
“I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally…A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It’s a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world. It’s a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now…Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.”
Keep the gates to the future open. Support your local library.