Libraries have always been magical places to me. I am still awestruck whenever I walk into a truly impressive library. To me books mean adventure, knowledge and freedom. Growing up in a large family, books were the only time I was alone. I would lose myself in the pages and have adventures that had nothing to do with my real life. As I grew up, I realized that everything I needed to know could be found in a book. It is still my first instinct to go look for a book even though the entire world is at my fingertips via the Internet. Now I look for a book on the Internet.
I clearly remember the first day I was allowed to walk to the Bookmobile myself. I was ten years old. It was a mile down a fairly busy street. Even though I had been selecting my own library books for some time under the watchful eye of my mother, this was something new and exciting. She would not even be on the premises while I made my choices. I felt free and wonderfully grown up. I also felt like I had the keys to the kingdom and that I could learn anything I wanted to learn.
Thanks to many wonderful people, our country is blessed with a strong public library system. I spent a number of years working in public libraries. In fact, in junior high, I was a member of the Junior Librarians Club and went to the state convention. Other than girl scout camp, it was my first trip on my own without my family. Talk about thrilling.
Unfortunately, public libraries are losing funding. Some cities and counties are so strapped for cash that they have begun limiting hours and services. This is a travesty. Although I am one of those people who never met a bookstore I didn't like, the library is still a great resource for me. Libraries have changed with the times in order to stay in sync with their patrons. I recently heard a presentation on public libraries and the speaker referred to users as customers - certainly a 21st century innovation as librarians reach out into the community as never before. Fewer and fewer of us classify ourselves as readers. For everyone of the avid readers who read daily, there are hundreds of those who read one book a year.
It's trite to say that reading enriches the mind and imagination. But it does. And those who do not read on a regular basis are denying themselves a great joy. For those who bemoan the loss of the independent book stores and criticize the large chains, it's important to remember that public libraries are the single largest consumer of books in this country. Support your library and you support the book industry. You don't have to be a book buyer although most library customers are also book store customers.
One of the great benefits of living in this country is that there is no excuse for being uneducated. Even if you happen to attend a less than stellar school, you can get a library card for free. Now the world's leading libraries and data bases are available to all of us through our local libraries. Libraries are not just about books - but about making content available to us. So whether you are interested in a picture book or dinosaurs or learning how to write a resume, your first stop should be your local library.
Check out the American Library Association and your telephone book to find out more about all of the resources available to you at your local library.