I have always loved books, and I have very fond memories of time spent in the local and school libraries when I was a child. Libraries lost a bit of their luster when I went to college because they became a place to spend long, agonizing hours cramming for exams and writing papers. But parenthood restored my love and appreciation for public libraries, and the ones in my town have become my favorite places.
When I was a stay-at-home parent, I would regularly visit two different libraries at least once a week. I miss these weekly outings with my kids, and when we can sneak in a trip between busy social and extracurricular schedules, I am giddier than they are. Some may say my affection for libraries is too much, but those people are wrong. Libraries are the shit.
1. They are free.
First of all, libraries are full of free entertainment, and I need all the free I can get. In addition to books there are plenty of movies and TV series to borrow, and I often take advantage of signing out the family passes to local attractions. With a short wait and a little patience, I can get free admission to our science centers, farms, and museums. Many libraries offer a variety of programs for preschoolers to senior citizens. Yoga, story and music hours, Lego club, teen groups, arts and crafts, TEDx video and discussion, and tax assistance are just some of the monthly events at my town’s library.
Several years ago my oldest child saw Frozen at one of our library’s movie nights. I was afraid to take her to the movie theater when the first movie came out because she scared really easily as a toddler and the last thing I needed was to pay $20 to walk out of the theater at the first sign of Marshmallow the snow monster. By the time the movie was released on video she was obsessed with all things Arendelle—thanks consumerism!—so we went to the premier of Frozen at the library when it became available on DVD. We experienced the movie on a large projection screen with other kiddos in Elsa dresses and dolls while we ate free popcorn. She had a blast, and I didn’t pay a thing.
2. They are an escape.
Call me cliché, but a library card really is a ticket to anywhere. Books for all ages, magazines, audio books, and comics in every genre transport us to real and imaginary worlds. I used the library to transport myself from the boredom and loneliness of being a stay-at-home parent to the enjoyment of adult conversations. To get my twins moving faster than sloths on some mornings, I would promise a run through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru; munchkins for them and a coffee for me made library mornings perfect.
I became friends with the librarians and looked forward to seeing the other local parents who were also creating times of sanity for themselves. My kids socialized with (code for fought with and sneezed on) kids at the train table or while digging through a bin of Duplos, and I filled bags with books and chatted with people who were not my children.
The relocated mindset continued into the afternoon when the kids and I snuggled up on the couch to read our new books and watch episodes of Paw Patrol from borrowed DVDs. Libraries are so much more than books; they are good for the soul.
3. They are community bridges.
“Public libraries are an essential part of a democracy,” says librarian Mary Graf. “Funded by the community, they exist to provide equal access to information and enrichment to everyone in the community, regardless of age, income, education, or social status.”
Libraries offer space to homeschool groups and after-school tutors. They also host literacy programs for early and struggling readers, including English language learners. Immigrants and refugees are able to find pieces of home in books in their native language, but they also receive assistance from librarians to improve their everyday English speaking and reading skills.
Even though I often take it for granted, the ability to check email, search the internet, and scroll social media is a privilege many people don’t have. The use of library computers is vital for some of our community members but our libraries are vital to all of our communities. Libraries are essential to low income individuals, families, and children and bridge the gap for those who can’t afford or don’t have access to WiFi and a computer. A story on NPR recently reported that many libraries are starting to eliminate late fees in order to take away financial barriers for their poorest patrons.
The American Library Association (ALA) said the fines were an example of social inequity and called on libraries to lift the fines. The result? More cards were renewed and late materials were returned. This did not surprise Ramiro Salazar, president of the public library division for ALA. “Library users with limited income tend to stay away from libraries because they may be afraid of incurring debt. It stands to reason these same users will also stay away if they have already incurred a fine simply because they don’t have the money to pay the fine.”
Libraries offer diversity and space for folks of all ages, including teenagers. One of the most unsupervised times for tweens and teens and the peak time for juvenile crime according to the Young Adult Library Services Association is after school. Gaming clubs, baking and art classes, and internships are popular alternatives that keep tweens and teens out of trouble while keeping them connected to pop culture.
And any space that uses the awesomeness that is Lizzo to promote the fun of literacy is 100% that library.