Every two weeks-ish I go to the public library to renew what I haven’t finished, return stuff, and pick out more stuff. It’s a place I pretty much take for granted. Every once in a while, though, the beauty of the place just knocks me over.
I don’t mean the actual place. The building itself, named for the grandmother of a friend of mine who donated the land, is a kind of non-descript white concrete building of the type only built by governmental authorities. If it didn’t have a sign in front saying it was a public library, that would still be one of your top five guesses for what the building would be. Honestly, I can’t even think what the other four would be. It’s not square enough to be a post office. Methadone clinic, maybe?
But anyway, the boringness of the building’s architecture aside, the inside is absolutely amazing. There is a whole bank of computers in there, at which – FOR FREE – you can write your Great American Novel, search for a job, apply for colleges, or do research for your homework. And the books? Unless you’re like me, and you bring them back late all the time, with nothing more than proof of your address and a promise to bring them back, they let you just take them for a couple of weeks. And then a couple of weeks more. And then a couple of weeks more after that. And if you’re late, like I am embarrassingly often? I have to give them a quarter per book per day. A QUARTER! You can’t even get gum for a quarter anymore, unless you are willing to settle for that rock-hard toothbreaker stuff you find in questionable gumball machines.
There’s free story time for kids. There’s a chess club. There’s the daily paper, local and semi-local. Magazines. DVDs. Large print books, and books you need extra strong reading glasses to read. It is one of the few things that government consistently does right. It is a great equalizer. It gives anyone who wants it free access to useful resources.
The public library I usually go to is pretty user friendly. I don’t actually have to go in there to renew my books. I can call or do it on line. But I always go anyway. One reason is because I have this stupid, irrational dislike of the telephone. I also forgot my password for the website and have no idea which of my twenty emails I used to sign up. But the real reason is because nothing gives me more pleasure than walking amongst stacks of books.
Really, it’s foolish for me to check out books from the library. The stack of books in my three to-be-read piles (I have to have three because my ceilings are only so high) contain so many volumes that if I did nothing but read between now and my ninety-fifth birthday I might maybe get to half of them. But I can’t help it.
First I check the new releases, fiction and non-fiction. Then I wander through the stacks, checking out biography, humor, and fiction with more care than the other sections. I wait for a volume to call to me. Sometimes nothing does, and then I’m free to work on my stack. (An aside: I’m pretty sure those books next to my bed reproduce at a rabbit-rate when I leave them alone. There is NO WAY I’ve had time to buy that many.) But sometimes I hear it, that faint, desperate, “reeeeeeeead meeeeeeeeee” and I am powerless to resist.
So I check it out. And feel pressured to read it quickly because I have to return it on time so it can call to someone else who is as psychotic as me.
And if I don’t, I pay a quarter.
That, my friends, is a bargain.
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