Full disclosure: I am the Interim Director of the Bixby Memorial Free Library in Vergennes, so it should be obvious that I am a big fan of the work public libraries do and of my library, in particular. And I have the authority to say that you belong here too.
I did not always appreciate libraries. I was a reluctant reader when I was a child and I have never been the fastest. When I was growing up, the newest Harry Potter book would come out and everyone would get their reserved copies and devour them. I was always days behind my friends, begging them not to tell me anything and shunning their company when they could talk of nothing else. Even now, I don’t take out books I think I might not be able to renew if I can’t finish them on time.
I know exactly which book changed everything for me. It was, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, which was required reading in 6th grade. I remember being younger than her but not by much. I was hooked to the worlds that could be glimpsed through books ever since.
My first real job at 17 was at the now gone Border’s. Much of my paycheck went directly back to the company as I mowed through Young Adult titles and Manga. As a highschooler, I spent many summer days at my father’s work in downtown Sacramento, California. Most days, I would spend an hour listening to emo music and drawing or reading instead of doing my assigned homework. I would wait till after dinner for that and stay up till 2am finishing school projects. I was bored and although my father would never admit this, underfoot, so I would walk 10 blocks to the Sacramento Public Library, where I would continue doing exactly what I had done next to my father’s desk, listening to music and/or reading, or I would meander around the shelves making up my own stories. I rarely checked out any books. My father’s work was 2 blocks closer to a mall and 3 blocks closer to a comic book store I really wanted to go in, but I had little money to spend and I didn’t feel I belonged in either space, especially when I was alone.
At the library, I didn’t need money or a project that required research or any documents to prove that I was allowed, that I belonged at the library. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really thought about how singular a library is as a public space where people can belong.
My 2-year-old is in that stage where she shouts at the top of her lungs so she can hear her voice echo around the dome of the Bixby Library. It is a milestone for all young children to test their voices beneath the dome and gently tap the columns to discover the Bixby’s great secret. In these moments I remind myself, as I try to settle her down, that for her whole life it will be a great gift if she remains this comfortable and belongs at her public library.
When new families come in, I tell them not to worry about the noise, and there is no need to shush. Sound carries wildly at the library I work at and I want to hear them and their kids reading, humming, and laughing. I want families to leave with the same sense of the public library as I had as a teenager.
They may not leave with the books they came to find, or with the answers to the questions they asked or there may not have been space for them to join the program they wanted to sign up for, but they leave with books being requested from neighboring libraries, resources to continue researching their query, and a brochure of all the other programs offered for free. And hopefully, they also leave with a feeling of welcome and inclusion.
The prerequisite for belonging at your public library is your existence, the rest is logistics.
Libraries all over the world are grappling with how to best serve their communities, especially in rural parts of Vermont where we have the most libraries per capita of any other state. There are so many good reasons to visit your library beyond all the free books and magazines, which can be a huge savings in money and shelf space. I could totally live in a tiny home if I had a library within walking distance.
Are you still on the fence about your public library? Here are some resources available at your public library that are not books.
There are programs for kids, teens, and adults. These programs cover topics from compost workshops and needlework groups to teen video game nights and preschool story hours- there is so much offered and most of it is free. Best of all, most libraries are open to suggestions for programming, especially if you are interested in facilitating or leading a group or discussion yourself.
Free Passes to Local Museums and Attractions
You can check out a day pass to Vermont State Parks or Vermont Historic Sites from your local library. Most libraries have much more than this with free and discounted passes to local museums like the Fairbanks or Shelburne Museum or attractions like Echo Lake Aquarium and Shelburne Farms.
Free Stuff (who doesn’t love free stuff?)
Libraries don’t just check out books and DVDs. Many have things of interest on offers like seeds, gardening equipment, projectors, wifi hotspots, snowshoes, bicycles, crafting supplies and telescopes.
Want to hold a free yoga class, or host a discussion about how to clean up your local parks? Need to get away from your office or house in order to get a special project done? Your library has space for you and they may offer it for free. The Bixby reserves space for free classes and projects on a first-come/first-served basis. As long as the events are free to participants and are during our normal business hours.
Free Internet and Research Opportunities
Many libraries are the internet hub for their communities. There are computers and tablets available for your use but above that, there are free resources to get tax prep help, manuals for car repair, free online access to articles in national newspapers, genealogy research databases, and test prep and career placement resources. This is only the tip of the iceberg- and best of all, there is someone at the library to help guide you. All you have to do is ask!
Of course, at all libraries, the conversation is always free. If you are looking to connect and meet new people and get acclimated to the temperature and heartbeat of a community, visit their library and volunteer if you can!