One of my fondest memories of childhood is visiting the public library on summer afternoons. The air was always, surprisingly for central Pennsylvania, oppressively hot, and when prepubescent me sought never again to venture outdoors, my mother would drive our family to the township’s library. Inside the air conditioning was magical—my mother separated from my brother and I to scour the mysteries, the true crimes, while I’d go to the children’s corner with coloring pages and picture books. I’d find a seat by the windows overlooking the back roads, or I’d log on to a computer to play a CD, and it was all I could do but to believe I was in some sort of earthly nirvana.
Except, I didn’t realize it then. You never truly realize a good memory when it happens; or, you do, and it spoils the rest of the day—either it disappoints, or you attempt to make something out of nothing.
Libraries are one of the few traditional institutions where I believe humanity did something right by conceiving it. It is a glorious space; it is some sort of socialist utopia where, stepping inside, everyone and everything is on an equal plane—education becomes free and abundant, the world’s greatest literatures are at arms’ length. They are cornerstones of any healthy society, an idea built of community and accessibility for all.
People—usually privileged elites—will always go on and on about how libraries are antiquated: We don’t need them anymore, they claim, why should our taxes fund such fossils of American culture? Have you ever noticed it is the most wealthy, the most privileged ones, the ones who can afford to pay taxes—the only ones who can spare to boost a common good—who whine about public programming? If you seek a paradox of American culture, that’s one: Those ones who can’t fathom the benefits of libraries are the same ones who don’t need libraries.
Libraries are not just study spaces and bookshelves; they are resources for the poor, for the less-privileged. They offer job assistance, refuge for the poor and homeless, research materials, internet access, education; they help break the cycle of poverty. They are lifelines to history and to knowledge—they bring communities together. If I could make it happen, I’d construct a library in every neighborhood and town.
I feel myself indebted to libraries. Every weekend I spend my afternoons in one. I check out books, I study its texts. I’ve written short stories, poems, novels all cooped up behind a library’s desk. I love to approach librarians with questions, and I love to lose myself in the Dewey Decimal System. And now, at 21, I understand what my mother so adored about our trips to the library: It wasn’t just something to pass the time; no, in a library, my mother could escape both herself and the confinements of our hometown, and in it allow me, her child, the possibility to do the same.