Happy September and Happy “Library Card Sign-up Month!” What? Yep, it’s time to go to your nearby public library and get your library card. I’m crazy, right? Nope, just crazy about libraries and crazy about books.
I have always loved libraries. My mom was an elementary school librarian for many years and I fondly remember going to the Santa Fe Public Library and staying there for hours. I can close my eyes and picture its distinctive green doors and my blue or salmon colored library card. I also remember the library at Santa Fe High sitting in the middle of the sprawling open campus.
And then there’s Bizzell Memorial Library at The University of Oklahoma, my alma mater. I loved that place then and I still love it today. Its “great reading room” is one of the prettiest this side of The Library of Congress and its “stacks” are chalk-full of history, classics, and a few make-out sessions…none by me though! I spent a lot of time in “The Biz” and love everything about it, from its statuesque role on OU’s south oval to its gorgeous castle-like red brick appearance. (Its bathrooms are also convenient to pre-game tailgating!)
I love libraries so much that I’m currently working with an artist to paint bookshelves on a wall in my powder room. When guests ask where’s “the library,” I’ll send them right to it!
We all have memories of a library: that confusing Dewey Decimal System and card catalog, the musty smell, and the joy of checking out stacks of books. Public libraries are not only places to access books and study, but they also offer everything from internet access to job-hunting services. Sadly, libraries are, in many ways and in many places, becoming things of the past with cities large and small shutting them down. Yes, the New York Public Library and its famous steps and lions is still doing brisk business (having a library card from it is on my Bucket List!), but probably as many people know it for the location of Carrie and Big’s ill-fated wedding in the “Sex and the City” movie as for any books they’ve checked out or research they’ve conducted. Much like book stores, libraries are feeling the heat from the likes of Kindle and Amazon. A happy ending, it’s not.
Think about it, libraries are more than just stacks of books. They represent places where anyone can enter and read about virtually anything. They also serve as community gathering spots and bring people together. Generation after generation and civilization after civilization have all considered libraries vital to a community. Today’s society should be no different; after all, no tech store can beat the likes of this, Prague’s Theological Library:
The city of Austin is currently building a 200,000-square-foot library and I like what they’re including in it. Yes, it will contain shelves of books, rows of magazines, and digital downloads, but it’s also going to house places where Austinites can mix and mingle without being told to “shhhhh!”
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Walter Cronkite
The new Austin Public Library will have a 300-person event space with its own catering kitchen, as well as a full-service restaurant. Awe. Some! Visitors will be able to take cooking classes in one of the largest culinary demonstration spots in the city; relax at the rooftop garden; and attend special events ranging from book signings to film screenings to live performances. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not your grandma’s public library!
Ninety-miles south of Austin, in San Antonio, a library of a different kind is turning pages and turning heads. In Bexar County’s BiblioTech, there aren’t any books. Nope, not a one. The $2.3 million “library” instead boasts rows of iMacs and iPads to use either in the building or to check out. It’s the nation’s only bookless public library and is proving very popular. Digital libraries can be found on many college campuses, but San Antonio’s public one is considered by many as the future.
“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” Ray Bradbury
The future of libraries in indeed precarious. As one of the architects of Austin’s library, Steve Raike, told the Austin American-Statesman, “If the information is really available in the palm of your hand, what is it about a library that is really important?” He goes on to say that the significance of libraries lies in the fact that they are where communities learn and share.
Kathy Lussier, a long-time friend and co-worker of mine back in my TV and PR days, is currently Community Relations and Marketing Manager for the Jacksonville Public Library, Florida’s largest public library. When asked by WJCT what makes her place of work one of the city’s “hidden gems,” Lussier spoke of the “second floor oasis in the middle of the city,” the library’s Betsy Love Courtyard. “It’s great when kids come to the library with school groups or with their parents, or for people working downtown who want to have lunch in the courtyard,” Lussier said. “I’ve also seen some beautiful wedding pictures because at night the tress and the fountain are lit up.”
Books and the people who read them. It’s those kinds of things that libraries offer and what sets them apart.
As I’ve blogged before and as I discussed with good friends while watching football over the weekend, I am not a Kindle or Nook user. I prefer a real book in my hands and I long for a library room in my house with shelves of books, comfy chairs, and even a rolling ladder. In my home library, my books won’t run on batteries but rather on the merits of the words inside them. Okay, I do agree that people are at least reading when using tablets, but I also tend to agree with Southern Living’s Rick Bragg who wrote, “Even when a whole library can fit in your palm, the gravity of stories in dog-eared books will never grow obsolete.” Amen.
If you’re a library and book lover like me, here are some interesting thing you might want to check out:
Ann Patchett’s book, “The Public Library,” a photo and essay collection about America’s public libraries.
The Texas Humane Legislature Network’s “Paws for a Purpose” on-line auction fundraiser, specifically Austin artist Craig Hein’s “LIBRARYdor Retriever” entry, which is covered with the titles of thousands of books:
Thatcher Wine, a Boulder, Colorado bookseller who custom designs client’s bookshelves into works of art. Here are just a couple of his creations: