The public library has always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of the crafts, day camps, plays and reading nooks in the children’s section of our local library. I even have these faint, dream-like memories of the first library I ever knew, which burned down when I was only 4 years old. (The building remains and was restored but at the time, all 62 000 books were lost. Breaks my heart every time I think of it, like a 62 000-deaths-in-the-family kind of sorrow.)
The new building was gorgeous. Bright, spacious, and inviting. And my early years of my Mom bringing me to read-alouds, craft days and just to hang out formed me. I wonder sometimes, which came first – my love of stories or my love of the library. Was it because I was at the library so often that I fell in love with the musty smells of old books, had the floor map of sections memorized, fell asleep with books in my lap, and in lonely times, would imagine the characters from my favourite stories being my good friends? Or was I born a dreamer, a story-believer, always hungry for the next chapter, the descriptions of far away lands, of characters who betrayed, faltered, committed crimes, fell in love with the wrong person and then found redemption at the end, and was consequently drawn to the library and its treasure like a moth to a flame?
Who knows. And truly, it doesn’t matter. Libraries have always been a part of me.
As I’m sure with a lot of people, when I moved away from home and went to university, the only library I visited was the one at the university and most of the reading I did was academic. I got a membership to the city public library but rarely went. I often had to renew my card or buy another one, having lost it in one of my moves. I didn’t really need to go to a library because I had books from used book sales, books on work topics, books from friends and family and books I would buy. Besides, I didn’t have time to read the books I had, why would I go to the library to get books that had deadlines? Everything else in my life had a deadline, why would I want to add more stress (to read it in time) or guilt (if I had to return it without reading it) in my life?
But in December (2017), I had a very good reason to go to the library.
See, I am an elementary school teacher.
I am one of those teachers that doesn’t often leave the classroom. Other staff members jokingly make a big deal when they see me in the staff room because I’m so rarely there. I guess I’m a bit of a workaholic but also, I really like quiet. And schools these days are anything but quiet. They are hives of activity, collaboration, creativity and social justice. Seriously, those schools you see on TV? I haven’t worked in a school like that for years! Education these days is exciting and inspiring and powerful. But it’s also loud. So I generally hide in my room, with the door shut, before school, after school and during lunch recess.
But this year has been different. I’ve had some unique challenges this year and I’ve found that my classroom – my haven – is never really quiet. Never. And I started to go a little bananas. I’m a person who needs a great deal of quiet to function normally. If you’re an extreme introvert like me, you’ll know exactly of what I speak. So I desperately sought a place to decompress. A space of quiet and calm.
One day, it occurred to me that the city public library is calm. And quiet. And DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET!!
So I wandered over one day on my lunch. I bought a new library card (having lost my last one) and I took a look around. Suddenly, it hit me…I’ve been walking through a dark tunnel of meaningless scrolling and empty comments these last few years when all joy and happiness and wonder and insight has been right here! Right in front of me! Literally, it’s right across the road from me every weekday! Oh, the possibilities! My heart filled with love and joy and excitement! Which book should I get first? I want them all! Wait, pace yourself, you have to actually read them. Travel? Mystery? Adventure? Close my eyes, spin around and then just take the first one my finger touches?!
Back in the summer, a friend told me about her city’s public library app and I thought it was brilliant. But I got so caught up in work and life that I didn’t give it another thought until I started to feel overwhelmed. So overwhelmed I was worried I wouldn’t see the light again. So, after renewing my card, I immediately downloaded our local public library app and found it very user-friendly. Heard about an interesting book from a friend or from social media? Just find it in the library app and add it to your holds list. Designate your pick up location and when it’s in, you’ll receive an email. It’s that easy! The app for my city’s library tells you when your books are due (love!), tells you which number you are in queue for all the books you have on hold (I’m no. 2 for The Right Stuff and no. 468 for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck), and I can renew my books and movies on the app as well. I have had a steady stream of good reading for the past two and a half months!
Not only do I save money by not spending millions of dollars at Chapters, but I also feel like a part of the community-centred, free sharing of knowledge. It’s the epitome of equality. And no matter how digital we get, libraries will not die because nothing connects us more to other humans’ stories than those of the written word.
I’ve been going to the library two or three times a week religiously now and since rekindling my love affair with the library in December, I’ve noticed a few things change in my life.
1.) I’m Happier
Yes, I find great joy in spending time in the quiet of the library. I am almost alone. It is quiet. And it is extremely encouraged NOT to talk to anyone or to make noise of any sort. It might be the last place on Earth. And it’s heaven.
But also, stories inspire and change us with lessons and human characters we connect to (or not) and plights and courage and emotion and adventure. They can make you believe in yourself, to see your own humanity reflected in the characters, to challenge you to learn and grow. And these aspects make me happy. And it’s a hell of lot cheaper than therapy.
2.) I’m Healthier
In two ways.
First, mentally. If you are not a teacher, you may not realize how stressful teaching can be. And it’s not really about the everyday stress of things that need to get done. That’s normal. It’s the stress of carrying all the burdens of all the children under your care. It’s knowing that some don’t eat every day, except at school, that some never get to school, that some have traumatic pasts, and uncertain futures, that we are all in this together and the way I accept and guide these students is a testament to who I am as a human being and is so much more valuable than teaching them to read, write and figure out numbers. Which I also have to do.
It’s a lot. Over time, it can really wear on a soul. The books take me away. They let me escape. Sometimes, they remind me that my life is pretty charmed. Sometimes, they give me ideas for new things to try or places to go. But they really just let my brain get away from reality for a short time so when I have to get back to it, I’m a little stronger.
Secondly, physically. Because when you read, you rest. In so many of our lives, there is just not enough of this.
3.) I’m Inspired Again
You can read about ANYTHING at the library! The first book I got was a non-fiction adventure book about an expedition team that tests the theory that Lt. Perry reached the North Pole in an amazing 39 days by recreating the equipment that he would have had to contend with. The day I finished it, Soldier Boy and I started looking at arctic tours! It has inspired me to write more, and to write in different styles. It has sparked an intellectual curiosity in me that has lain dormant for far too long.
Not only that, but I’m inspired to step out of my comfort zone. I’m not afraid to select a book I may not like. I’m not spending any money on it so I feel more adventurous when it comes to reading a variety of different genres. If I don’t like it, I don’t feel obligated to finish it or guilty if I return it.
A great example of this is what my library did for the month of February. They wrapped a variety of different books with fun labels on them. I’ve always enjoyed mystery so I thought I would give this “blind date” a shot. I ended up with a James Patterson teen mystery novel that I would never in a million years have chosen off the shelf (because I tend to judge books by their covers).
4.) I Have More Money
I do love bookstores, especially independent ones, and I generally would rather buy books than food. But I don’t have to make that choice anymore! At the library, the books are free!
And, as mentioned in #1, books are cheaper than therapy.
5.) I Connect on a Deeper Level with People I Wouldn’t Have Before
I love talking about books, stories, ideas, and all the stuff that comes with it. The ideas that connect with what we already know, the stories that rework our understanding of an idea. When you start talking about books, you realize that everyone is reading something different, that everyone has something to contribute, that everyone has a different opinion on it and you learn more about the person with whom you are engaged in conversation. Readers connect with each other and bring the book to life. We learn about each other, not just our likes and dislikes but our histories, families, past lives which creates a deeper understanding of not only the stories but the humanity that they reflect and that we all share. We connect on a much deeper level to each others’ humanity. We more clearly see ourselves as all part of the same game. All part of the same struggle. As Tahir Shah said, “Stories are a communal currency of humanity.”
6.) I Have Found More Like-Minded People
There are not only stories at the library. There are classes and workshops and presentations. I recently discovered a drop-in knitting group that is run through a library close to my house. I also went to a presentation a couple of years ago about the Camino de Santiago when I had first decided to walk it. The presentations are given by people in your own community – our neighbours, really – and it’s always a great feeling to be around people who show the same interests and ideas as you do. Just go to your local library’s website and look up programs and events.
So go find a library close to you. Go now. Go unearth its treasures. Download the app, check out some books, take a look through their events and presentations, save some money, rest your body. Let your imagination soar.