What Do Libraries Mean to Me? An Essay by Lauren Rinehart

By Lauren Rinehart

When I was very young, I must have figured out early what reading was and became very eager to learn this magic as soon as possible.  So I started pestering my parents to teach me and after a few weeks of non-stop requests, they relented.  I’m not sure I really understood everything they taught me but it got me in the door and I never stopped reading after that.  Pretty soon I was outpacing all of the students in my classes by reading more and more advanced materials.  The key was that my parents took me to the library every week and let me load up on books–literally anything I wanted to check out. They never questioned me.  I mean, of course, they stifled a laugh here and there, especially when I checked out War and Peace at the tender age of 8, but they never made me put a book back, not once.  In the summers, my sister and I would tear into our library haul the second we got back inside the apartment.  My dad used to get so exasperated by our heads constantly being buried in books that he would demand we get outside in the sunshine.  One time he yelled at us to go outside and he meant it, so we shuffled off (eyes rolling, of course) and went outside.  He came out to check on us about 20 minutes later and started yelling again, because were just sitting in lawn chairs reading.  Honestly, there was no pleasing that man.

As I grew up, my relationship to the library changed.  I didn’t visit nearly as often, but when it came time to get a job, I zipped right over to the library next to my high school and applied.  I got the job despite having a terrible case of laryngitis the day of my interview!  It was undeniably neat to get to see the other side of the library.  I got to see new books enter the system, see old, well-loved books get weeded out, see where the books dropped when they were pushed through the book return, and I learned so much more about libraries and how they work behind the scenes.  Unfortunately, I also got to see a side of the library I had never seen before and was completely unprepared to deal with:  so many parents tell their kids to put books away.  Kids run up to their parents excited to take their book home only to be unceremoniously snapped at and told to put it back on the shelf, most of the time for no reason at all.  I heard parents tell their kids flat out, “You know you’re not smart enough to read that. Put it away and get a DVD.” In fact, I heard more parents tell their kids to exchange the book they clutched in their tiny hands for a DVD more often than I care to remember.

I’m not sure there are “smart kids.” I think there are just kids.  Kids are naturally curious, soaking up everything like a sponge, and the ones who are encouraged to follow that curiosity–even if it leads to long-winded, 19th century Russian authors–are the ones who seem to excel in their studies.  Library books are free to check out (as long as you return them on time), so it seems to be a no-brainer that we should allow them to see where their interests take them.

I stopped working at the library when I started college, but was lucky enough to have three new libraries to explore at school.  Nowadays I rarely visit the library, opting instead to peruse the digital collection online from the comfort of home.  Libraries have shaped who I am today to a greater degree than they have shaped most people I know.  The library was my favorite place to visit as a child, my first real job as a teenager, where I worked on homework as a college student, and where I met my husband as an adult.  In more ways than one, libraries are responsible for opening up my world and taking me places I wouldn’t have imagined in suburban Ohio.


Lauren Rinehart is a freelance writer and blogger (currently without a blog – but will have one again soon!).  Keep up-to-date on her recent articles about the Dayton area by visiting her temporary page http://girlaboutdayton.weebly.com or following her Facebook page.

One comment

  1. I think Lauren Rinehart needs to write a sequel to this fine article about how she met her future husband at the library. “Love at the Library” certainly sounds sexy to me. However, her experience of watching parents tell their children to trade books they want for dvds made me sad. Don’t get me wrong, I love dvds, but it saddens me for others to thwart kids from following their curiosity because it is in a different medium than what makes their parents comfortable.

    Like

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