Pennies Add Up At The Pubic, Uh Public Library

I don't mean to do a PSA this week, but as I learned last week, I have to go with what's on my mind. I can't fight it. It's a moral imperative! Anyway, here's my story about pubic, I mean public libraries...Yes, the 'pubic' thing still makes me giggle as much as when I was a kid and someone said it the first time.

As I mentioned in my last post my mother and I moved a lot when I was a kid because of her job. I changed schools so much I thought it was normal. It took awhile for me to be able to express what I was feeling about it and I found writing the key to getting those feelings out. At the same time I discovered the school library. Writing and reading go hand and hand and my first short story was inspired by Iggy’s House by Judy Blume, a book I read until it fell apart.

From the first step into one, I thought a library was a magical place and Mrs. G., my first librarian, was the sorceress of that world. I started with Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess and soon it was my favorite book. I checked it out of the school library over and over for five months straight. I felt my school’s copy was mine. All mine. I really didn’t get the concept of a library, I was only six after all.

I don’t know if Mrs. G had actually loaned the book out to someone else or if she put the book out of my reach, but one day she gave me a copy of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret while telling me my favorite Dr. Suess book wasn’t available. I still wasn’t quite at that reading level yet, so we found some Encyclopedia Browns and a dictionary until I could read at Judy Blume level.

I began devouring books and by the end of second grade I was reading at a fifth grade level. I was a stickler for my favorite authors and discovered that if I liked a book by one person, I usually enjoyed reading other books by the same person. Judy Blume wrote one adult novel and I begged my mother to buy the book so I could read it. I didn’t see the issue, but my mother did because I was only eight years old. She bought and pre-read the naughty Judy Blume book. When she finished she said it was too mature for me. Probably a good call.

Mrs. G offered me Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys but I continued looking for tougher, longer material. Age appropriate books weren’t for me. Once I broke away from Dr. Suess and had accomplished Watership Down I needed epic novels to hold my reading attention. I drifted to mysteries and suspense and finally that mixed with romance became my bag.

My mother finally turned over the Judy Blume adult book I’d been so eager to read a year before and her review of it was it was a boring read, but yeah, I could read it. I have to admit, I didn’t like it either. I had a hard time reading the book and gave up a couple of times before forcing myself to read each and every word.

The problem was, it wasn’t what Judy Blume did. She wrote about little girls, with little girl issues, storytelling I could and did relate to. Her writing style really didn’t transcend into adult material. I also had plenty of writers to pick from who did it better by that time. Don’t get me wrong, the writing as a whole was good. There was nothing wrong with the book. I just had an expectation of storytelling from Ms. Judy Blume that was not delivered in that one book.

Mrs. G continued her recommendations and I continued reading and then my mother got the promotion she couldn’t pass up and I had to leave my librarian friend, my school, my home, everything. As a parting gift Mrs. G once again opened my eyes to a new author, Christopher Pike, and a new word, ‘Godspeed’ which I had to look up in my trusty worn out dictionary.

My mother stopped trying to censor my reading material by the time I was ten and she said, “My kid is reading. Why should I curb what it is she reads?”

Something close to that statement was made to my sixth grade teacher who’d confiscated my Jackie Collin’s novel in class one day. The teacher went on and on, holding me after class while the office called my mother.

To hear the teacher tell it, I’d been reading a copy of The Story of O or some truly pornographic material in her classroom. I’d exposed and tainted the other innocent students to XXX material just by reading a book. I’d done something wrong, evil, depraved. There was no reason in the world for me to have such filth in my possession. Did my mother know what a little pervert I was? I should be ashamed of myself, etc. and I listened with a mostly bored affect while I waited for my mother to arrive.

When it became clear to my teacher that my mother supported my reading whatever I wanted to read regardless of content she changed her story with a quickness and ended up backpedaling to the problem wasn’t the material, but the fact that I was reading during class. She returned the book and although other students were reading Sweet Valley Twin books in her classroom and those books weren’t taken away from them, you know, whatever.

Over the years I can’t remember all the librarians names because only two ever really stood out for me. They were nice and all, but no one could or did replace what Mrs. G was to me. They were the school librarians and they didn’t have time to keep giving me recommendations. Their priorities were the entire school, not just one person.

As a result, I got my first public library card. Every weekend my mother drove me to it and I picked out a few books here and there, but the suggestions being made to me at the time just weren’t satisfying me and so I started rereading everything I already owned and started sharing authors and titles with my mother.

The library, school or public, was no longer a magical place. A librarian wasn’t an all knowing wizard.  It wasn’t until high school that I met Mrs. S. Mrs. S and Mrs. G had similar approaches to being a librarian and soon Mrs. S was as good a friend as Mrs. G had been. In addition to books Mrs. S was responsible for all the audio visual media and she sparked my interest in how television shows and movies were made. Although I never officially became an AV geek, I was the go to person for Mrs. S if a piece of equipment wasn’t connected correctly. The school library was once again my sanctuary and Mrs. S let me have free reign throughout high school. She retired the year I graduated from high school.

Fast forward quite a few years later and a permanent move to the south, I went to my public library to use the computer. I didn’t have to get a library card to use the computer. It wasn’t until after one jellyfish picture and a couple more years that I finally got a library card again.

The librarian I dealt with was friendly enough and she even turned me onto a wealth of new authors, but I didn’t expect or need her to replace Mrs. G or Mrs. S. What she did open my eyes to was the fact that my sanctuary was in trouble. For whatever reason, I grew up thinking that my public library would always be there for me. The truth of the matter is public libraries are in trouble. I’ve watched over the years as the hours were cut, the fine fees bumped up and new material is harder and harder to find.

This public service is in major financial need. Their funding is cut all the time and even my small help of returning books late just to incur the late fee or donating my books when I move isn’t enough to save them. In an age of e-readers and internet there seems to be less consideration of what a public library can do for a person. Almost as if their function is becoming obsolete.

In defense of the public library, they are changing and meeting the challenge of such technology driven times. I can access content online, browse material and interface without physically stepping into one. Also, I can place a book on hold, or check out electronic copies of material. When I do enter the public library, there are computers available and color me old, but I like being able to pick up a physical book. I enjoy touching and turning the pages. I prefer that format to an e-reader because I don’t have to make sure the batteries are charged to read a book.

An entire universe can be found in the pages of a single book. There are millions of friends to be discovered in the volumes lining the shelves. Although the public library is a free service to their customers it does take money to keep the doors open. Some libraries get very creative with this challenge. For example the scheduled book burning put on by the Troy, Michigan public library.

For me, I create and pay library fines (usually under $0.25 per book). I get this practice is a bit douchy to the person waiting to read the book I have checked out. But if every person who owed the library paid their fines, public libraries wouldn’t be in financial trouble.

They are in trouble. Every year more and more libraries close their doors permanently. I try to do my part because I feel their value to a community is priceless. It’s rather easy to get involved and as simple as going out to your public library’s website. You’ll find Friends of the Library or a comparable version and other ways to support your own public library a click away. Mine even has an Amazon wish list where I can purchase a book to get it on their shelves or in their electronic database.

Maybe you are the type of person who never used this public service or you think only geeks step foot into one. Or you’re a reader, but you download all of your books or purchase them online, from bookstores. Personally, I don’t always have money to spend on books or even entertainment in general. The public library doesn’t just have books. You can borrow movies, music, etc. and it’s free (unless you return the item late and have to pay the tiny fine for doing so) to you to use.Or think of it this way, some of your taxes are going to it, so you’re already paying for the service you might as well use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment