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Thursday, April 14, 2016

In Praise of Libraries (Bethany Brengan)

I sat down to write a completely different type of post, but then I realized that this is National Library Week (in the U.S.). And there are few things I love more than libraries.

There’s been a narrative circulating (pun intended) that people don’t use libraries anymore, that libraries are “out of date.” (Which fits in nicely with the “nobody reads anymore” narrative and the “everybody’s getting stupider and stupider and we’re all doomed!” narrative that never goes out of style.) The truth about modern library usage is complicated (and would require endless links to surveys, which Chris will thank me for not making him format), but a 2013 Pew Survey found that about half of Americans over the age of sixteen had used a library at least once in the past year.

[Note from Chris: I also recently heard a report on NPR that there are more libraries now in the U.S. than there have ever been in U.S. history.]

Just think about how many individual library patrons that is. Never mind the patrons who visit their libraries repeatedly (and the patrons under sixteen).

I’m sitting in my local library as I type this and thinking of all the ways the library has affected my life in just the past week:
  • The first and most obvious is that I have been spending a lot of time working in the library lately. As a freelancer, I work from home, but recently, my home has experienced an influx of black mold. As the mess is slowly being removed, I’ve been spending some working hours at the library. When I first snuck in, carrying my laptop like some kind of contraband, I found that I wasn’t alone, in quiet nooks and crannies throughout the stacks, people were working on their computers: doing homework, catching up email, or just watching funny videos (I can hear them giggling). At first, I kept waiting for some librarian to come by, like the impatient cafĂ© waiter when you’re typing away and you haven’t ordered anything but coffee refills for hours. But no one cared. And I feel so much better, less achy and groggy, for these few hours of breathing freely.
  • There is a member of my family who is currently bedbound. I’ve picked up several DVDs and audio books for her this week. This doesn’t include the audio books she accesses through the library’s digital collection.
  • This past weekend was the quarterly Friends of the Library book sale. I bought (too many) books for myself and some books for my writers group.
  • I returned a interlibrary loan book and requested another one. (Did you know that if your library doesn’t have the book you want, you can request it from another library? Or that you can even request that they purchase the book you want?)
  • Tomorrow night, my book club will meet in the library, using book kits purchased for us by the library. When I moved to the area, the first friends I made were through this book club.

That’s only the past week. In the past year, I have attended a zydeco lesson, poetry discussions, author readings, and a Native American dance demonstration, all hosted by the library.  

But perhaps what I am the most grateful for is how much my writing has benefited from the library.

For example, when I was researching my article for Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder, I quickly realized that I didn’t have all the resources I needed, and I definitely couldn’t afford to purchase them. The interlibrary loan system was a manna from heaven.

Also, I consider myself a good researcher, but at one point, I hit a roadblock; I couldn’t figure out where to find information on how gender influenced (or didn’t influence) parenting styles. One of the reference librarians took me through the shelves, pulling out book after book, and within those books were references to other books. Which I requested through interlibrary loan. Which became a starting point for my research. My article wouldn’t have existed without my local library. I couldn’t have afforded to write it.

This is what libraries do, they equalize knowledge. They’re one of few places in our culture where money won’t get you better service and lack of it won’t keep from getting served.

If you are writer (or a reader), please consider how you can support your local library (whether through donations or joining your Friends of the Library). If for no other reason, do it because it’s in your best interest to foster a community of readers.  


Right now, there’s a woman working at one of the computer stations and a librarian is helping her access something. (Given the time of year, I’d guess it’s tax information.) “You’re a lifesaver!” she exclaims (as much as anyone “exclaims” anything in a library). It might sound like hyperbole, but I find myself nodding.

Bethany F. Brengan is a freelance writer and editor who reads too many comics. She is a contributing writer to Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing and Batman (McFarland Books). Her poetry has appeared in The 2015 Poet’s MarketPoetry Quarterly, and The Crucible. She can be found at www.brenganedits.com andwww.readingwritingraptures.blogspot.com.

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1 comment:

  1. My very first paying job was as a page in Chicago's (then) largest regional branch. I had been going to that library as a patron for close to a decade before that. I read every book in the Children's Department (which I know now was very large, having visited many a library in the intervening years), and my dad sort of bullied the senior librarian into giving me an Adult card several years before I was technically old enough to qualify. "But that would allow her to check out ANY of the books!" argued Mrs. B. I'm sure my father's response was slightly more eloquent than, "Yeah, so? I trust her." If I had to list the good things my dad did for me, that would be #1 on the list. (When I recalled the story to Mrs. B several years later when she was my boss, she remembered the incident... because so few parents ever did that. Also, she admitted she had been happy to make me a new card; she only put up token resistance because she was supposed to.)

    I believe that the afterlife is a HUGE library, that libraries are holy places, and that librarians are real-life superheroes. That might explain why the secret identity of my superhero character is a librarian.

    Ooh, ooh, ooh, and now that I'm unemployed it will be easier to get over to the local branch when they're open. And I'm pretty sure they've got the digital lending program set up, too. My Kindle and I might have to leave the house tomorrow after all!

    Happy National Library Week, all y'all!