Over the years I have read and done research in some fine libraries. The Library of the British Museum was pretty impressive, as were a number of University libraries I was privileged to use.
I think our Public Library is terrific, and a quantum leap removed from the era of the oak card catalog cases of the years I first became a library patron in Chicago.
My first regular public library was a tiny branch of the Chicago Public Library located in a nearby settlement house. My pal Christo went there regularly in the winter, after school and on Saturdays, to read and to stay warm.
Christo and his mother lived in a one-room cold-water flat heated by a coal stove. Christo was welcome there after school, but he was not permitted to light the stove. The library was always warm.
This was the place Christo and I “hung out” after school and on the weekend. Often there were only the three of us there…me, Christo, and Miss Frances, the librarian.
Christo invariably took his shoes off in the library. They were too small, tight, and made his feet terribly cold in the winter. He wandered around in his stocking feet till his feet got warm and his shoes dried out under a radiator.
None of this seemed to bother Miss Frances. She never rapped on her “Silence Please” sign when there were just the three of us there and, blessing of blessings, she gave us pretty much free range of the library’s modest stacks, apparently not too concerned that something we found there might prove to be “inappropriate.”
Miss Frances was the reason I decided to become a librarian and spend my life surrounded by books. It didn’t work out quite that way but I’m sure that Miss Frances is at least partly responsible for my enduring affection for books and libraries.
Here in Pima County our library system is alive and well, and although I doubt Miss Frances would recognize it at first, I’m sure she would be quick to approve.
Modern libraries have become complete education, entertainment, and research centers. Talking books on CDs, DVDs of movies, banks of computers available for patrons who do not have access to the internet, job search assistance, story time for the littles, help with home work and many other services.
My own library , the Dusenberry-River Branch, is like a village center where I rub shoulders with a cross section of my neighbors, young and old. I go there at least once a week…which is easy as the library is open seven days a week.
Library use in the county is alive and well. There are 523,770 library cards outstanding and the holders of those cards racked up 5.1 million visits to 27 branches in 2008-09. 2400 free programs either are or have been offered, including one called Homework Help, providing 21,000 youngsters free after-school tutoring help in literacy and math.
And did I mention books? Well, no, but that’s still the core of a modern library. You remember books? Never need batteries? Read ‘em anywhere…even the tub? Expensive? Not at all… all you need is a free library card.
Check out our library.