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A quiet riot to celebrate libraries

Shine your shoes and pull out your party supplies — this week marks that festive celebration we’ve all been waiting for: National Library Week.

What? No?

OK, so maybe the library doesn’t conjure images of streamers or confetti. For many of us, the library is simply one of those reliable constants in our lives — strong, dependable, and always there. I’d go so far as to say we take it for granted.

When I sat down to write about the library this week, I realized it’s played a role throughout my life. Some of my earliest memories, in fact, are sitting so still at Saturday morning story time, or playing a mischievous game of hide (me) and seek (my exasperated mother) in the rows of the brick Carnegie in my hometown.

In grade school, the Washington Elementary librarian, Mrs. R, taught me how to bind books for a Girl Scout badge. And if I walked into that room today, I could show you exactly where the Laura Ingalls Wilder section is — and where you’d find the Nancy Drews. (Not everybody’s grade school library stories are as fond. My friend Shawn lost a library book in elementary school. So, naturally, he stole the book’s checkout card with his name on it from the librarian’s box. But never fear: On the last day of school, he found the book in his desk and snuck it back into the library.)


In junior high, I knew exactly which row held the books I liked — the ones with the faded yellow stickers on the spine with pictures of a long-coated detective holding a magnifying glass. In high school, I often walked to the library after school to "study" (i.e. read Rolling Stone and talk to my friends) while waiting for my dad to get off work.

And, holy man, college — sometimes it felt like I lived in the library during college. My friend LaNae actually used to nap at her campus library. One night she actually woke up on one of the lounge couches at 3 a.m. And, sure, she momentarily considered wreaking some havoc in the dark-and-empty library — like in the movies when someone’s in a department store in the middle of the night. But in the end, she just let herself out and went home to finish sleeping.

I’ve probably used the library most as an adult. I’ve picked up tax forms, used the Internet stations, researched article topics. I’ve made copies, read magazines, and traced a path with my finger from Rochester, Minnesota to Bergen, Norway on the globe for my children. I’ve spent hours in the study rooms, checked out movies, and bought more books than I should probably admit from the Friends Bookstore. (Hardcovers for $1! Children’s chapter books for 50 cents!)

As a parent, I’ve cuddled up on a library couch to read stories, circled the fish tank holding a small hand, and shushed my young sons in the picture book section. (Funny story: My friend Sandy was chasing her son Logan through their library once, manically whispering his name while he hollered, "I’m not Logan! My name’s Owen!") More recently, I’ve ventured upstairs with my kids to locate resources for history and nature reports.

The library infiltrates our lives. It’s there when we need it — providing services and programs and learning for all phases of life, no matter who you are or where you live or what you do or how much money you make. It’s this part that amazes me most — it’s one of the only institutions that is truly available to and useful for everyone. And maybe that does deserve a little confetti. (As long as it’s not too loud.)

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