Monday, May 16, 2011

The fate of the library

I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Until I was ten, my house sat in the middle of a small neighborhood atop a large hill. We called it a hill, but the people here in my beach town might just call it a small mountain. There was one road up it - the kind that makes you feel you might not make it as you lean heavy on the gas to power the car up.

On the other side of that hill, down below it, sat our public library. As mentioned there was no road down the other side to get to that library, only a mildly worn dirt path with a wall of trees on one side and about a 30 foot drop on the other side. The path was 2 feet wide. I never saw anyone travel it but me, my friend Trisha, or my brother. 

On Saturdays I'd watch cartoons, eat a bowl of cereal, then hop on my white bike with the white basket and the flower-print banana seat and sail down that dirt path like a Kamikaze. Riding the path made me nervous, but the lure of books inside that building was enough to make me shove my fear aside.

I had my very own library card. It was second only to my Barbie townhouse and my bike in terms of possessions I was most proud of. I felt so grown up going to the library by myself, with my own card, at the ripe age of seven -- never mind that I spent all my time there in the children's section. Sitting in that library reading those books gave me the feeling I could do or become anything.

I could only check out as many books as would fit in my bike basket, and I'd have to push the bike back up the steep, narrow path. So I'd spend an hour or so in the library reading, then choose which books were worthy of the push.

I remember thinking I was the luckiest kid because I could bike to a library whenever I wanted.  Is it any wonder I became an author? It was either that or a librarian, but I knew I couldn't be quiet for that long every day!

Today I'm longing for a chance to hop on that banana seat and ride down that path once again. I wonder what inside that library branch has changed, and what looks the same. The thing that got me nostalgically remembering my weekly treks to the library as a kid is this post by Seth Godin on the future of the public library. And the librarian.

These days I read a lot on the Internet; I frequently browse bookstores; I own a Kindle; I buy paper books; and I still borrow books from my public library. No longer do I ask which books are worth the push. Now I ask, which books are worth the price. What about you - do you utilize your public library? Or do you just use the Internet or book stores? Do you use an e-reader like the Kindle?


  1. Hi Rachel, I myself lived to go to the library when I was younger. I would check out 5-7 books at a time and devour them at home. Sadly, I don't make time to read like I used to, but I am happy to report the kids and I use our local library A LOT. I mostly use it to check out DVDs for free and to buy used books and magazines, but the kids love it. My son is even on the TAB committee (Teen Advisory Board). I am so glad my children have caught the reading bug and our town library would be greatly missed! They have computers where people can surf the net and check their email, they have resources to help people find jobs, they have awards for reading and they offer quite a few classes to the public on quite a few subjects like digital photography. They recently purchased a Wii and they show at least 2 movies a month with free popcorn. It is a staple in our community!

  2. Tricia MMay 16, 2011

    I do not own an e-reader, I rarely buy books - new or used. I almost exclusively borrow books from my public library, as do my kids. This isn't to say that I won't one day succumb to the current trends, I usually do, I'm just always at the tail end of them -- but I'm not there yet. BTW, I'm 41 yrs old, love and use the internet, and love to read.

  3. AnonymousMay 16, 2011

    Hi Rachel, we go to the library once a week. I have four boys and want to give them a love for reading...We do use the internet, but not for reading. No electronics in our home (i.e. wii, video games etc). My son is in second grade reading at a 6th grade reading level... And I don't buy books anymore either, just try to borrow them from the library - our state has a lend from other counties, so if our local doesn't have it, we may be able to find it upstate and borrow to read.

  4. My grandmother took me to the library during the summer when I was little. We were allowed three books each visit, and sometimes we sat and listened to the story telling. I am planning on making it an outing for my kids and I this summer... to take part in their summer weekly program. I am hoping it will keep them interested in reading this summer, and it gives us something to do other than swim! I think you're right, though; people have sort of forgotten about the library. I know I don't utilize it nearly enough!

  5. A library is certainly this homeschooling mom's greatest resource! We have been known to visit the library twice a week and the librarians know us on a first-name basis. I like to check out books first and then if it turns out to be a favorite, I consider purchasing. Besides, I don't have room for another bookcase at my house! I LOVE my library and fought to keep our local one from closing last year. The community spoke up and we saved our library - yay! I just don't know what I would do without it. I still love the feel and smell of a book in my hands. I suppose I get that from my mama who was a librarian in her local public school system for 30 something years. I know technology is convenient and more preferred by some, but this girl still loves her library!

  6. I own a ipad so I downloaded kindle app and thats how I purchased your book through Amazon. I still love the comfort of an actual book but the e-reader is pretty awesome especially when on the treadmill all it takes is a swipe of the finger and it turns the page.

  7. When I was growing up I had to walk to the library which was a couple miles, maybe less. I would get as many as I could carry and read them the rest of the week, then go back and start all over. I liked Zane Grey, and I can't remember the others. Oh, I did read all of the Nancy Drew books. I love mysteries. Now I order books off the internet since I can't drive anymore. I like the inspirational books from Steeple Hill. I don't read as much as I use to.

  8. I just got a Kindle for Mother's Day, and I LOVE it. I don't think I'll ever get over the feeling of holding a book, though, or scanning for treasure on the shelves of the library. :)

  9. I grew up reading and still love to read when I get the chance. I have bought some books recently through Amazon and my local Lifeway store. I have used the Library all the time for schooling. During the summers, I take my daughter at least every other day to get books. She is growing more independent in the checkout of books from the Library.

  10. I am a school librarian in Texas so I find your post particularly interesting! My mother took me to visit my small-town public library many times growing up (that's where I met Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown and Mrs. Paul, the strange, nice librarian that always helped me). I treasure real, printed books, but I do own a Kindle and love the convenience of having multiple books with me at all times as well as a way to make new book purchases on the spot. But like others have said, there is nothing like holding a book. Each year the financial constraints in my district leave me to wonder whether I'll get to be a librarian again the next year. I can clearly see where society is headed regarding the future of libraries and librarians, and I relate very well to what Seth has said in his wonderful post. Anyway, thank you for your post, too, and thanks for the nostalgic moment!

  11. Oh, Amy M., Trixie Belden was my FAVORITE series while growing up.

    Pam - in my unscientific opinion, I think homeschoolers and fiction readers make up the majority of public library users these days.

    I'm enjoying everyone's comments.

    Smiles ~ Rachel

  12. Leigh F.May 18, 2011

    My kids love going to the library and checking out new books to read. We check out 20 books at a time! We love the library!

  13. Such a timely topic Rachel!

    I love the library but I do not make my weekly visits as often as I'd like to. For me growing up, the library was my second home. I do own a Kindle which I love for the convenience - I only read blogs :-) and emails online. It's either my Kindle or paperback books.

    I use online resources such as Bible Gateway for research purposes. I do pray that the fate of libraries is to keep them around forever. Online resources and e-readers simply cannot take the place of the experience of our local libraries. Each summer I challenge my girls to read 100 books which means we visit the library very often! Bookstores are nice but they do not take the place of our library!

    Thanks for your post - I love reading how others grew up and the things that meant a lot to them.

  14. Good morning Rachel,

    Libraries were my lifeline when I was growing up. I moved around so much and subsequently had a difficult time socializing after a while. But, I could always count on the library to hold treasures that would take me away from my life and send me on adventures of the mind.

    I can remember every library in every town that I lived. I remember walking there, checking out as many books as I could carry, and hurrying home so that I could dive into the minds of so many wonderful authors.

    Stephen King has equated reading and writing to telepathy. I didn't realize that as a kid, but truly I was mind reading.

    I still get butterflies in my stomach when I enter a library or used book store. The smell of the aging pages tells me there are worlds unknown there. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to sit down and read a novel these days. But, I do check out books for the kids that I read to in our local Lutheran school.

    I don't know if it's that way where you are, but the local libraries here aren't the quiet haven they used to be. There's no hushed reverence. The librarians speak in normal tones. I miss the awe and respect from days gone by.

    I guess all this would explain why I enjoy reading to the kids, writing my devotions and why I'm going to kick myself in the keester and get back to editing my book that has been mouldering for lo so many years! I have a telepathic message to all the young readers out there, but they'll never get it if it stays in my computer unedited :-).

    Thanks for the reminder, Rachel!


  15. Oh Leah, I'm with you there - the smell of a book and the sight of row after row of books where does one start. I'm always checking what they have as new author books or even new books by my favorite authors. I have a kindle for pc but there's nothing better then curling up With a good book hot tea and warm blanket ( if needed) and just jump in and be taken to a world unknown.

    When I was a kid I'd love to go to the library after school, look through the children's section and grab books to read as I sat on the bean bag chars. So many stories- as as you saw from above that love has never gone away. I really can't describe the feeling I get when I roll ( when in my power chair) or walk in and see those book just waiting. And I get to go today to return some as a matter of fact.

  16. This post brought back memories. When I was a kid I went to the YWCA once a week in the summer for day camp. Grandpa would take me in the morning and after it was over I was allowed to go to the library ALL BY MYSELF until Mom could pick me up - maybe a couple hours at the most. I was in heaven. I could read & figure out what books I wanted to check out. What a great gift of the love of reading from my mom.
    I still love to read. I borrow from the library, buy some, and download freebies to my iTouch. I'm thinking about a Kindle, but haven't decided for certain.

  17. CArol you can always download the free kindle for your p.c. I have it and love it. So many wonderful books. S have a great day all


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