Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confessions of a spoiled librarian

Beware, folks - this is about to get personal. And perhaps wordy. No book reviews today. Just thinking about how libraries affect my reading habits. But first, some context...

In the last month, I've finished off my second full year as an elementary school librarian; packed, moved, and unpacked my entire life four states southeast; and spent two weeks overseas - all the while, looking for another job as a school librarian in my new locale. Reading, unfortunately, has not been a priority as of late.

Now that I'm sitting on my new couch in my new house and I have some time to reflect, I can't help but think of how spoiled I've been all my life. I've always lived in a place:
  1. with a public library 
  2. with a thriving public library 
  3. with a thriving public library only a 5 minute drive away
Sure, I know that not everyone is this fortunate. But thinking you know and experiencing it for yourself are two very different things, my friends. 

When I moved to Champaign six years ago, my family was busy unloading the truck while I drove myself over to the public library just four minutes away to get my library card. And I instantly checked out an armful of books to be enjoyed amongst my unpacked boxes later that night. That's normal, right? 

On my most recent move, I'm embarrassed to say that it took nearly a week for me to get myself over to the public library. Mostly because I was first rejected by the library that I thought I would call my own (it's a county library, yet it's named for the town I live in - confusing). Because I live in another county, I did a little research to find out where my actual library is - in a town 20 minutes away. Really?! (Again, you must remember how spoiled I've been - libraries, to me, are like grocery stores. They need to be within walking distance.) 

The library itself is a nice little library. I even checked out a book when I got my card. A book. Not an armful. Instead, I went to the Barnes & Noble (also 20 minutes away, but in the other direction) to buy some books. Me! Buy books! Unheard of. But what was I to do when the library didn't have what I wanted? This is something I've never experienced before, and it perplexes me. I'm used to having a stack of books sitting next to me, wherever I may be sitting in my house, just begging to be read. I've always had plenty of reading options. 

And this gets me thinking about my kids. Or my former students, rather. And how they would lament that the library didn't have anything good. Because they had something specific in mind, and maybe we didn't have it or it was checked out at the time. But instead of letting them leave the library empty-handed, I put my reader's advisory skills to use, and I helped them find another book they might like. Maybe they'd read it, or maybe it would stay in their backpack all week long. If they read it, maybe they'd like it and want more, or maybe they'd still feel that big, gaping hole of what they actually wanted to read. This is my long-winded way of saying - I get it now. I'm sorry we didn't always have what you wanted to read, and I understand that it's utterly disappointing. 

Though, I really shouldn't wallow and bemoan my new library. It's different than the one I had before, and I just have to adapt. No longer will I be checking out dozens of books just to have options at home - but for having to drive 40 minutes, I'd really like to. Maybe I'll spend more time at the library, browsing, and being my own reader's advisor. Finding older authors and titles that I never had a chance to read before. And if I really, really want that new release, I guess there's always the bookstore. 

What I'm most afraid of is that I'll read less. I won't be as excited about reading. I'll get bored. I won't go to the library because it's too far away. Or maybe I just won't go as frequently because it's so far away. 

I never understood people who didn't go to the library in my previous towns. We had fantastic libraries with plenty of branches to serve everyone. Now I wonder about the people in my neighborhood. Do they go to the library? Are they readers? How do they acquire their reading material? And what about the kids? Especially now that it's summer, and they aren't checking out books from their school libraries. They can't walk or ride their bikes to the library or even a bookstore. So are they not reading? Whenever my students couldn't find what they were looking for at our library, I always directed them to the public libraries in town, which were in walking distance and/or easily accessible by bus. Some went, some didn't, but they all had the option. What happens when you eliminate that option?

Times like these, I feel very sheltered. And, of course, spoiled. I may not have had the healthiest book budget for my school library, but my public libraries were well-funded and loved. The community supported them and patronized them frequently. Is this the case with my new library? Or are people as lazy as me and not happy to travel the miles to visit and check out a book? 

I hope that the answer to some of these questions is that more people are reading e-books, so they're just downloading their books, whether borrowed from the library or purchased online. I would be too if my Kindle hadn't just died right after the warranty expired (I mean, just days after! It's like they timed it!). Maybe I'll start reading on my iPad more, since I still have Kindle books purchased that I haven't read yet. But I don't want to lose reading paper books. And with this quote, I think I'll wrap this blog entry up (which read much more like a diary entry - my apologies) on a lighter note:
Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell... musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is... it has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um... smelly.
-Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 8)


Jennifer said...

When I was 11 we moved outside of Austin. City library cards cost money (and it was a long drive and we didn't always have a car). So I walked the (3? 4?) miles to the Leander library. Which would have fit easily into the Champaign children's room! I read every book in the library - literally. I discovered Harry Potter, Bruce Coville, Susan Cooper, Rebecca Tingle, and Victoria Hanley. I read Jane Austen's complete works in a single afternoon and tested every mystery they owned. Then I discovered Project Gutenberg and worked my way through the complete oevre of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Wallace, Sax Rohmer, Tom Swift, L. Frank Baum, and everything else that looked remotely readable. On dial-up. 90s dial-up. If you're a reader - you'll read. For some people, reading is as necessary as breathing - one of the reasons I transferred from my first college was the lack of access to a decent library. For some people it's just a pleasant pastime or something they do as needed. I don't think people to whom reading is necessary are any more righteous than the others (-:) but becoming that type of reader is often something that has to be cultivated by parents, teachers, and librarians.

NatalieSap said...

Jennifer, I think your last thought definitely sums it up, and that's where I feel challenged. I can cultivate those readers for sure! But in those beginning stages when they're just getting a feel for reading (I do work with the little ones) and deciding whether or not it's something they enjoy, access to reading material (and a variety of it) is so important. If I worked in this neighborhood, where I knew that kids weren't able to get to the public library, I think I'd be checking out books over the summer for them to read! Or hitting up garage sales & finding other ways to pass out free books to each student. Oh, and I don't feel more righteous for it, either. They will grow up to be their own kind of reader, but it's definitely my job to help them figure out what that is, I think. :)

Matheson Memorial Library said...

I've noticed that the more access I have to books the more picky I am. When my books were limited, I read whatever was there. Now I'm more likely to shove things on a shelf because I'm not in the mood.
Access is such a huge issue - I get a much lower summer reading response from the rural elementary school as compared to the other two elementary schools in our town, but I have yet to come up with a way to fix this. It's frustrating enough realizing that I'm reaching less than a third of the elementary age kids in our town - and I KNOW not all those other kids are on vacation! And two of the schools - and therefore the population - are in walking distance.

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