love of libraries, perhaps.
I can’t get over the concept of public libraries. The fact that you can borrow all of those books (and DVDs, CDs, magazines, audio books, etc.) for free (or almost) is incredible to me in this society where one often has to pay $.50 for tap water(!) and a fast food lunch is running about $7. I think I’ve had about 8 different library cards in my life, and each one seems like a little piece of magic, tucked away in my wallet and ready to release its power.*
In Holland, MI, where I did my undergrad at Hope College, I’d go to the Herrick Library when I needed to study but didn’t want to see a lot of people I knew. It was just a few blocks from campus, but instead of only college students, I’d see old people, teenagers, and families with kids – reminding me that there was a world outside of university life. (Oh, also? At least when I was there, the Herrick Library let you check out certain framed artwork, which was AWESOME. What a great idea, right? We could put up a new framed “painting” in our dorm room or apartment and switch it out every few weeks.)
When I lived in Seattle for a summer, I’d walk a mile downtown (or take the bus within the free ride zone, which started about 2 blocks from my apartment) and send my emails from their public computers, or get a coffee at the Seattle’s Best across the street and peruse the magazines. Or else I’d just walk around and look at the awesome architectural features (seriously, Google it). Once I spent an entire day there reading the fourth Harry Potter book because it was overdue and on hold for someone else.
One of my favorite lunch-break activities when I worked in downtown Cincinnati** was to walk the 1/2 mile from the Scripps Building to the public library with a bag lunch and sit outside with a new acquisition. (One thing that was great about the CPL was that even if a book I requested was in stock, one of the library employees would go find it for me and it would be waiting at the front desk when I came in. The ten minutes that saved me really added up over time.)
Since living in Texas, Derek and I have gotten into the habit of stopping by our local library for audio books before a long road trip. We’ve “read” Malcom Gladwell, David Sedaris, John Grisham, Bill Bryson, etc. and it always makes for good conversation. The books we listen to become a part of the trip, somehow, so when we think of Beatrice and Virgil we remember our crazy Thanksgiving road trip last year.
Libraries feed my thirst for knowledge of any kind, but they also allow me to sate that desire without commitment. If I want to check out a book on paper flowers, or a Truman biography,*** or a movie I would never spend a cent on but will watch if it’s free, then I can do that! I have no obligation to like it, or call the next day. If something catches my eye (yes, I do judge books by their covers sometimes) I can check it out and not feel disappointed if it ends up being just a pretty book.
Finally, I love that libraries are a public place. Like Harold’s, all walks of life congregate in a public library, and it’s one of the best places to people-watch. I’ve run into all sorts of characters, and have even had some great conversations with strangers.
As I enter this next year of my life, in which I’ll attempt to write my Master’s thesis, I think I will be especially thankful for libraries. I’ll find a favorite corner or two to stack my pile of books and hunch over my computer to write. I’ll have a selection of candy and little salty snacks in my bag that I’ll likely partake of too often…
…and I’ll fill my Nalgene with free tap water.
*Except when I have an overdue fine. Then it feels like a millstone around my neck. Although I have to admit that since I’ve saved so much money over the years using libraries, I try to consider any late fees I might accrue as my little contribution to keeping these libraries on their feet. Yeah, like $2.50 is really going to help.
**I love that I know how to spell that without looking it up. It makes me feel so connected to it in some way – like a good friend.
***I have to admit, I’d likely never grab a Truman biography off the shelf – it’s just the first thing that came to mind after I typed “paper flowers.”