By Trinity Lu
Kindergarten had let out for the year, and the taste of summer was ripe and sweet on my tongue. In that moment, as my mother picked me up from school, there was only one place in my mind. It wasn’t the playground, nor was it a friend’s house or the grocery store for ice cream. No, the place I looked forward to going to the most as a child was always our local library. My brother and I would race up the stairs leading into the place, pillage the picture books, listen to a read-aloud or two at the storytime corner, then head over to the children’s computers, where we would battle other kids for the privilege of playing Cool Math Games.
The library is somewhat of a home-away-from-home for me. My childhood was filled with weekly trips where my brother and I would pore over stacks of books, stopping to read through or simply filling our backpacks to take home. For a short time following my entry to high school, these visits dwindled, but after the tenth grade, they started up again with fervour. Pre-pandemic, our local branch was a vibrant community hub, filled to the brim with people regardless of what day of the week it was.
For the past few years, with the onset of the digital age, people have begun to question the utility of libraries. In a world where the internet is at many people’s fingertips, streaming services are in no shortage and entertainment is to be found on every corner, some argue that libraries are a waste of taxpayer dollars. There was even a short-lived Forbes article in 2018 entitled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” The article was taken down soon after publishing due to backlash, but was put on my mind recently while I was browsing old Vox articles and saw a response to it. I was reminded of the harmful sanctions that some publishers put on ebooks, which they justified by claiming that libraries were harming authors. As much as people may love their libraries, it seems, there will always be an opposition.
This little article is in part, of course, a love letter: for the noble institution, but also for the underappreciated librarians manning the counters and tables at my local library. It is also a response to the calls for libraries to modernize and get with the times, for us to stop beating a dead horse and let it die in peace.
To start out, I think that many people who don’t visit libraries have pretty strong misconceptions about them. When they think of a library, they might picture silent rows, dusty tomes, and perhaps a skeletal librarian in the corner whispering for people to “shhh.” An archaic, unneeded institution and waste of taxpayer money. As tempting as it is to indulge in these images, I’d like to give an actual description of my local library. Pre-pandemic, I would have told you about my library’s shelves of books, yes, but also the row of 3D printers and the large, dedicated study spaces (always filled up with people of all ages). I’d describe the Dungeons and Dragons groups that played in the evenings, the weaver’s society table with knitted caps for the homeless and the bulletin boards that promoted workshops on digital literacy for seniors and coding for children.
Post pandemic, I can talk about the way the holds section has expanded by at least six shelves and several tables, and the measures to keep us safe while we’re picking them up. I can and will wax poetic for hours about the love and dedication shown by our youth librarians, who have been running Zoom sessions in lieu of our in-person meetings since the pandemic started, are always creating new opportunities for us online and keep working on fun digital programs that we can enjoy. The ebook section of our library is flourishing! My mother’s book club has relocated to Zoom calls and back yards, but the community that they first found at the library has become precious and dear to her.
For me, in this crazy, unhappy time, my local library has become a place of solace. Online, it’s where I can meet new friends and see people that I haven’t interacted with in awhile. In-person, I get the pleasure of browsing books and picking up holds, all while feeling secure in the knowledge that they value our safety and are doing everything they can to flatten the curve. Beyond my experiences, the library is now a place where those who aren’t able to access the internet can book time to use the computers and printers; a place where those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford their child’s voracious reading appetites can come to breathe a sigh of relief. Their YouTube and Instagram accounts feature librarians reading stories aloud, and their Facebook is filled with recommendations for different books and groups that people can join. Their new pen pal program has been great for connecting people with seniors who aren’t able to leave their assisted living and care homes.
For those who haven’t visited their local libraries in recent years, or since the pandemic started, I encourage you to start looking to them again. Check online to see if they have new opening hours, or have expanded their online collections (use the Libby app!), or are taking holds. You might be surprised at what you find.