Wednesday, November 10, 2010
PUBLIC LIBRARIES: THEY DON'T CALL THEM "PUBLIC" FOR NOTHING
When I have extra time on my hands, I find myself in public libraries. Occasionally, the library is new to me, but most of the time we become fast friends very quickly. When I walk into a library, there is a feeling of welcoming me home. Familiar scents, sights and sounds greet me, even before I make it to the first book shelf. Libraries have unique qualities that I could recognize with my eyes closed.
There's the smell of printed paper, whether it's the daily newspapers, the crisp magazines in their plastic protective cases or the books waiting to be explored. No matter what brand, e-readers will never be able to replicate that "new book" smell.
Running my finger over a page and experiencing the texture of the paper brings the book to life for me. Some books have pages made of such rough paper that the words almost cut into the surface; while on the other end there are the books with the glossy pages and print to match. Silky pages bring to mind the water and all that it hides beneath the surface. My daughter used to only like the "soft" books, as she called them. Her little fingers would kiss the pages as I read to her. I got that love of texture.
People who have joined the biblio-lover club bring their own unique qualities to the library experience. Some people groom themselves daily and come to the library with the freshly-washed scent of clean clothes and bodies; while on the other hand there are people who have already put in a full day's labor and come to the library before finding their showers. Each person, whether dressed in business casual, beach wear, tube tops and tiaras is welcomed. Everyone is greeted with a smile and helpful attitude by the people who work in the library.
Excited toddlers and their adult partners find their way to the glass-enclosed activity center and music starts for "mommy and me" time. Strains of "Hot Potato" seep into the rest of the library which makes me watch the precious little ones following the librarian, who is leading the activity. In our busy world, it is sweet to see the magic in the simple actions of following the leader in a learning activity.
Electronic sounds serve as a background to all the workings of the library. There are books being checked out; anti-theft electronic signals are deactivated with a muted thump; computer keyboards are clicking out hidden messages; printers are spitting out the requested pages nearby; conversations are kept low so as not to disturb other people; phone ringers are cancelled quickly; and overflows from earphones sometimes seep out to the neighbor.
By the late afternoon, the patrons have changed. In come the after-schoolers. Older elementary students scramble to find the perfect book, the computer site with all the fun games or a quiet spot to challenge a friend to a board game. Some high school students find a corner to help each other with class assignments; while at the same time sitting closer than school personnel would allow.
In the library, there is a feeling of ease; no one is in a hurry; life slows down and people can catch their breath. It's as if when I enter the library there is a promise of more appreciation for all that is good in the world. Words are powerful and when I immerse myself in an environment which celebrates them I feel hopeful, relaxed and energized.