This is dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, the man who created libraries.
He didn’t actually invent them. Libraries were around as long as writing was around, whether on parchment scrolls or on papyrus. What Mr. Franklin did was create America’s first city lending cooperative, of sorts, for books, among his friends and acquaintances. From those humble beginnings we have arrived at the amazing, incredible, wonderous places known as our public libraries.
When I need a mood perk — a pick-me-up, I go to the public library. There are three libraries within a 4-mile radius of my house, with Denver, Arapahoe County and Aurora all represented. Actually, one of them, the Aurora branch, is within super easy walking distance, a leisurely 10-minute stroll away.
Walking into a library, for me, is a bit like walking into a sacred space. There is the preternatural quiet, for starters. Everywhere else, in restaurants and bars, in banks and watching TV shows, I am constantly being assaulted by bombastic music — a loud soundtrack of background noise. One of these restaurant chains (Joe’s Crab Shack) prides itself on being “the third loudest restaurant in the United States.” Needless to say, I no longer patronize their establishment. But the libraries are muted places, and if patrons are talking, they do so in hushed tones — not necessarily whispering, but with a quiet respect and calm. Here children don’t run around screeching, but rather sit reading or being read to — a sight that always melts my heart.
Another thing about the library that pleases my soul is the lovely smell of new books. Sure, I have changed throughout the years. I used to enjoy the dusty smell of old books, like the used book stores, but somewhere along the way it began to bother me. I wouldn’t say I’m allergic, but I find the smell less pleasant and more intrusive. However, new books still smell wonderful to me, and since the libraries contain mostly books written in the past couple of decades, it’s a different story — should I say a different smell?
I always check out the new releases section — books hitting the shelves as they were published just weeks or months ago. As read I book reviews from Goodreads, National Public Radio, The Denver Post, and get email alerts from a variety of places, I look forward to finding one of the books that piqued my curiosity. I grab writers I know, only occasionally checking the book summary on the dust jacket because I trust these authors. I also pick up books whose jackets and titles appeal to me — yes, I do judge books by the covers, and I am rarely wrong — Stop judging me! This isn’t my first rodeo.
I have been going to libraries since I could walk. My parents would take me, even to libraries in other cities when we went on vacations, so I could load up on books and spend the time reading, whether by the beach or …. Wait, we always went to the Black Sea to relax, so always by the beach. I am not much of a sun worshipper (that title belongs to my mother), so I would create my own shade on the pages of my book by resting on my elbows and wearing a hat. I don’t like how the sun’s brightness interferes with my reading, plus I don’t care for heat.
As an adult, I still carry on this tradition of visiting libraries in the places where I vacation. Even on quick day or overnight trips around my State of Colorado, I have visited libraries in many small towns.
I also find that the library is a space of solitude and a refuge from empty conversation and unwanted interactions with other people. Though there are plenty of people in the library, each is attending to their own personal agenda of finding what they are looking for — even if they do not know what they want. Sometimes, I really don’t want to be approached by the helpful salesperson asking “Did you find everything all right? Can I help you with anything?” While I am fine with the friendliness of other patrons, I pretty much want to be left alone to explore what the library has to offer. And if I need help, I can always ask a librarian at the reference desk.
Of course, the absolute best thing about public libraries is the cost (or lack thereof). I have walked out of the libraries loaded down like a pack mule, carrying as many books, DVDs and music CDs as I could possibly carry. If I would have bought these things, I would have been hundreds of dollars poorer. And then, when I return them, other people can check them out — when you think about this, it’s extremely environmental.
Libraries offer a variety of services — English classes for immigrants, computer services, public meeting rooms (at one such room I’ve learned knitting), and book clubs. They are places of social hubs, all for the low, low cost of a few tax dollars. I gladly pay whatever late fees I may accrue, just to support my local libraries.
So here’s to Ben Franklin, who started something special, magical even.