I Miss Libraries
At the library, you could say yes to everything
Recently, my children and I walked by our shuttered library and my nine-year-old son said, as if recounting a dream, “Remember… libraries? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you could just go in whenever you wanted? And there would be lots of other people there? And then you could pick whichever books you wanted and take them home for free?!”
It suddenly seemed like a thing that couldn’t possibly be real.
I’ve always loved libraries (heck, I wrote a novel about a librarian, which is obviously my secret fantasy job) but it took my kid’s observation to make me realize that I miss libraries so, so much.
And I don’t mean the hushed stacks of my childhood library, where I hid for hours devouring every single Wizard of Oz volume — I’ve been missing those for decades.
My busy branch never has the book you’re looking for, which inevitably leads to finding the book you need.
I mean the noisy chaos of the urban libraries that have been part of my weekly routine since my kids were old enough not to chew on their board books. I mean the concrete cubes full of tweens playing games on screaming computers, and standing-room-only storytimes, and information boards papered with notices in every language on earth. Our local branch was always filled to the brim: baby-minders with endless hours to occupy; senior citizens looking to get free digital literacy lessons; new Americans in search of English conversation practice and resume help. It was a meeting place for teenagers bored after school; a cooling center during heat waves. It was a beneficent presence in a tough city, a haven for people with nowhere else to go.
We checked out our last stack of Wimpy Kids and Timmy Failures a couple months ago. We’re fortunate in that, for us, missing libraries doesn’t have to mean missing new books — in fact, I just placed an order at my local bookstore. But what I miss about libraries isn’t really the books. It’s the sense of possibility. I thoroughly researched the books I ordered from the store. At the library, you wander in, planless, browse the shelves, blithely judge books by their…