I’m going to share something with you that is totally embarrassing (promise not to tell anyone, ok?): It has been years since I have actually held a library card. Three and a half years, to be more specific. This seems especially mortifying to me, for several reasons:
- I love to read, and I do it A LOT. (The Master’s Program in Fiction in which I am currently enrolled requires me to read a minimum of five books closely each month and respond to them, in addition to the articles, literary journals, poetry, essays, graphic novels, and other things I read regularly.)
- My house is filled with books, which I try to regularly lend or donate, including to libraries.
- I believe that libraries are magical places where curiosity can be sated for readers of all ages.
- I have spent a lot of time in libraries throughout my life. In college, the New York Public Library was one of my most-frequented sites. On a nice day, you would most likely find me sitting beside a marble lion outside welcoming patrons into the library, with a book or three and a coffee, or perusing their latest arts exhibits, or researching in one of their beautiful reading rooms. And when I lived in Burlington, VT within walking distance of the Fletcher Free Library (which will receive new books from CLiF this year as part of the Year of the Book program at nearby Sustainability Academy), I regularly frequented its reading rooms and literary events.
- I am on email list serves such as “I Love Libraries” – and I do!
- I work at the Children’s Literacy Foundation, which partners with libraries through several of our literacy programs, encourages families to utilize their local libraries, and celebrates the role of public libraries, especially in rural communities like the one where I live. (Our Rural Libraries program is currently sponsoring 12 public libraries; Read more about it here. Pictured above is one of last year’s Rural Libraries, Jefferson Public Library in Jefferson, NH.)
I tell you all this to let you know that even dedicated bookworms such as myself who are well aware of the many benefits of public libraries don’t always make the time to fit them into their busy lives. I suspect I’m not the only library-loving reader out there who has passed their local library many a time on the way to an appointment, or with a car full of groceries, or before or after library hours and thought I really need to make it a point to go there. I’ve been saying that to myself for the year and a half that I’ve lived in Waitsfield, VT and passed the bright yellow Joslin Memorial Library nearly-daily and thought Tomorrow, I swear, I’m going to remember to stop by.
Sure, I have my excuses: a busy schedule that doesn’t always coincide with library hours; I try to support my local independent bookstores like Bridgeside Books and Phoenix Books, as well; And as a graduate writing student, it can be very convenient to write notes and mark pages in the books I read for upcoming papers, or to re-read them at my own pace; etc. etc. etc. I think most people who don’t make it to their local libraries regularly have the best of intentions and are (hopefully) aware that this bountiful resource exists in their community. I offer my own tale of library delinquency to reassure all those library-lovers who haven’t seen the inside of a library in a while that it’s not too late! Unlike the dentist, librarians won’t judge if they haven’t seen you in a while.
Earlier this week, I finally did it. I let those groceries sit in the car for an extra half hour and put off my to-do list for just a bit while I tended to the important business of signing up for a library card. I finally faced my embarrassment at it having been far too long since I’d entered a library, and signed up. Of course, it was remarkably easy, took about the time it takes for me to brush my teeth, and the volunteer behind the desk couldn’t have been friendlier. When I couldn’t find the memoir I was looking for (Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov), she found it through inter-library loan and promised its arrival within the week (Note: Most libraries have a relationship with other nearby libraries that allows patrons to take out books not found in the local library’s stacks).
On a Monday morning, the library was filled with young readers, a few pairs that appeared to be working on homework together, and a handful of patrons milling through the stacks. As I walked in, a tiny ballerina clutched Jan Brett’s The Mitten to her chest and twirled down the steps with a smile on her face. Entering the open, sun-lit room of the historical building felt like wrapping a warm blanket around myself. The familiar sounds of flipping pages and respectfully-quiet chatter felt lifted out of my own childhood, much of which was spent at story times and in the Children’s Section of my local library. (Sidebar – The Children’s Librarian at my childhood public library still recognized me when I went back during a college break. Aren’t librarians the greatest?)
Libraries are an especially important resource for families of young children who may not be able to afford to keep up with their kid’s literary appetites at a bookstore. Library cards allow kids to explore different types of books and have access to new reading material regularly. They also provide resources like audiobooks, which can be a great way to engage in stories in the car or while doing other activities. Many libraries also offer access to online services, for those you can’t make it in during library hours. And as our friend Children’s Librarian Caitlin Corless reminded us on this blog, “Libraries Are So Much More Than Books!” They’re also community gathering spaces with lots of exciting programming for children and families, from story times to book groups to music, art, and special activities. CLiF’s Rural Libraries program offers funding for public libraries to create special literacy initiatives, like the themed Adventure Backpacks filled with resources like nature books and binoculars that Milton Free Public Library in Milton Mills, NH offered as part of their sponsorship last year, or the animal tracks workshop Greensboro Free Library in Greensboro, VT held last spring. Check your local library’s calendar for special events, follow your library’s social media channels or sign up for their newsletter, if they have one.
What better time to patronize your local library – no matter how long it’s been – than “National Friends of Libraries Week“? And even if you don’t make it in this week, we’re pretty sure your local librarian will still welcome you with a smile and a helping hand. Happy reading!
Erika Nichols-Frazer is CLiF’s Communications Manager, a graduate student in Fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars, a native Vermonter, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Waistfield, VT with her husband, dogs, and chickens – and many, many books. You can connect with her at @cliforg, @enicfraze, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.