What Is The Library To You?
Last year when we sent out our annual appeal letter, we asked people “What would you do in a world without libraries?” It was a thought provoking question and when many stopped to ponder, it was unimaginable. There has always been a library. How could we imagine being without one? So if we can’t imagine not having a library; what is a library to you and why would it be unimaginable?
There is certainly no one answer nor even a right or wrong answer. A library is not just one thing. That’s our magic; with so many diverse offerings, we are different things to different people. Yes, people borrow books and magazines, music CDs, DVDs and audio books to listen to. They can take home hotspots to access the Internet. They can download e-books. It’s a place of information and learning, a place to study. People attend programs, use the library to get a job, study for their citizenship test, and use it as a place for meetings. The programs and offerings are as varied as the people who use the library; as the reasons are for why people use the library. It’s a place to practice your English. It’s a place to get away from it all where it’s a bit less hectic, less noisy. There’s no time limits on how long you can be there. No one tells you that you’re there too long. For some, it might be the only place where they are acknowledged and welcomed. For some, it’s a place to feel part of the community, a place to combat loneliness or a place of acceptance. For some, it’s a place of wonderful memories.
That’s the stuff but have you thought about the impact? Have you ever thought of a library as a life saver? Maya Angelou, at a public event at NYPL, shared the story of how a library saved her life as a child. When Maya Angelou was about seven, she was sexually abused. After revealing his name, days after, he was found dead, kicked to death. The little seven-year-old believed her voice had killed him and so she stopped speaking for six years. When she was sent back to where she lived before, she met a neighbor who changed her life. The neighbor brought her to a library. After all Maya didn’t talk; she had plenty of time to read. Reading was soothing. It led to writing and Maya found what she was meant to do. And she found her voice. Through her life, Maya always felt that wherever she was, if she can get to a library, she’d be ok.
The stories of how libraries impact peoples’ lives are many. Ronald Clark lived in a library. His father was a custodian in one of the branches of the NYPL. At that time, custodians and their families lived in the library in a library apartment. Living in the library shaped who he is and gave him the thirst for knowledge. He was the first in his family to graduate high school and became a college history professor.
Comedian Drew Carey took out a book on how to write jokes at the library, and his comedy career was launched. Author Nancy Slonim Aronie, shared that books and reading saved her from a very lonely childhood. At the library she found people who took interest in her. And from books, she learned about people and compassion.
Another author, Jody Casella, who spent time growing up at our library, shared in a magazine article, that a librarian saved her life. The librarian struck up a conversation with the sad, shy, little girl and gave her books to read. These books took Jody away for just a little while from the real world and helped her learn how to cope.
Who knew? Well library staff does as we are lucky enough to hear these wonderful stories from library users. Libraries are much more than the stuff in our collections – that’s our stuff. But it is what that stuff brings to people’s lives that is the real story of libraries.