When I was little, I spent summers with my grandma in South Texas. We would walk to the library and spend hours together looking for books, reading, and searching for recipes and facts on the computers together. We’d carry our haul back home and the books gave me days of company and entertainment.
My grandma loves the library. I love my grandma and she taught me to love the library too.
I moved around a lot because my step-father was in the Navy. Friends came and went, along with schools, bedrooms, and neighbors. I could always find comfort in my local library.
We ended up living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and when I moved out at 17, I got busy. Busy with college, busy working multiple jobs, busy with friends, busy with life. The library on campus became my new safe place and a workplace. Sometimes I pulled all-nighters there during exam weeks. But mostly I did work-study, helping students in the Writing Center and scanning old photographs and slides in Special Collections. While I found my career in the academic library, I stopped going to the public library.
Eight years passed as I finished college, moved across the country to DC, then LA, went to grad school, and worked in academic libraries. Then I woke up and rediscovered my love of public libraries. Around that time, I started working with 10 public libraries in the US and Canada.
Three years later, I now work with over a thousand public library systems all over the world. And I often wonder, how many other people lost touch with their public library love? Have they found it again? And how many people never developed this love in the first place? Why didn’t they?
I talk about public libraries often, with friends, with strangers. People tell me so many different stories about their relationships with public libraries. Some people have stories like mine, stories of using the library as a sanctuary while young. One of these people recently told me, “If someone talks shit about libraries to you, tell me, and I’ll bust their kneecaps!” At age 7, this person’s parents found them at their small town library after thinking they were missing all day. They were reading and hiding from bullies.
Most people don’t have love stories like that though. Many people are disconnected from their library. They didn’t go growing up and they don’t go now. They don’t know what libraries have to offer, what’s there to love. I don’t blame them though because when we search the Web, use apps, and talk to Siri or OK Google, libraries rarely show up as an option. And maybe they don’t have a grandma that loves the library. It’s easy to not know, or forget what’s there.
So I gently recommend books I’ve checked out recently. If they complain about a commute, I tell them about free audio books. If they like movies, I tell them about the library’s streaming services. If they’re looking for a job, I tell them about Lynda.com access and other learning services the library offers. If they have kids, I tell them about great children books and events. Without judgment, I try to help them create their own public library love.