Photo by Michelle Heppner | @michelleeheppner
Fact: Before last week I had never been to a library before.
Just reading that sentence makes me sad and makes me regret all the wasted time I didn’t spend in libraries. Despite this, I am an extremely avid reader. Growing up I was always reading at a much higher grade level than I was at, not because I was the next child prodigy or anything, just because I lived in books up until high school. I got lost in them. My motivation for getting through the day was the knowledge I would be able to come home and read. I got in trouble constantly in class because I was always involved in a book on my lap under my desk.
Even entering my teenage years, libraries were already starting to become highly obsolete. The iTouch was making its massive debut, and smart phones and eBooks were on the rise. My favorite trips with my parents were always the ones to Borders or Barnes and Nobles. Even walking in to a bookstore now completely transports me to when I was little, because the smell of new books was one I was very familiar with. Book stores were the first reason I had never visited the library, but as soon as I got my first kindle, I stopped making trips to bookstores too. Although I was enthralled by the fact that I had almost every book ever published at my disposal on that skinny little tablet, a part of me missed being able to dog-ear my pages and carry my book around school like a badge.
I grew up, I grew busier, and soon reading for enjoyment wasn’t in the cards due to my ever growing list of responsibilities. I passed my kindle down to my brother, and sometimes I would stop by Barnes and Nobles and pick up a few books in the hopes that I would be able to actually finish one for once. But alas, they collected dust in a special spot on my desk with the other books I swore I would read if I had the time.
Fast forward to now. The concept of libraries had always alluded me. Like, if I want to hold a physical book, why not just buy it so I can keep it for my own? Why go to an ancient building in the part of town I’ve never even driven through in order to borrow a sad, beaten up book that grown men have probably read on the toilet and children have wiped their boogers in? Gross and ridiculous. That was until I actually went to one.
Last week, I (begrudgingly) made a drive to the library in order to pick up some monologue and acting books for my next audition. When I parked I just sat in my car for a while and finally called my dad because I just didn’t know what to do. Were they gonna card me? Did I have to pay for a… library ticket or something? (In hindsight, the fact that this is how my thought process progressed is a little embarrassing. But we’re embracing it.) So I walked by an entrance labeled “Children’s Library” and I thought, “Hm, I am not a child. This is the incorrect place.” I then made a complete and frantic circle around the entire building until it got to the point where I had to call my dad again and he explained yes, I can enter through the children’s library and yes, I did pass the alternative entrance during my extended walk.
I hung up and walked through the entrance, but I kept my phone glued to my ear because I needed to look official and on a mission. And also I was afraid people were gonna recognize me from the first time I wandered in and then back out. I completed another full circle around the children’s library (are we noticing a pattern?) and all I found were a variety of Magic Tree House books and the occasional shark or other [insert-animal-here] picture book thrown carelessly to the ground. I also ran into my school’s dean. Literally bumped into her. So far, it was not a fun time.
Second rotation around, I noticed something unusual. There was a giant aquarium in the WALL. No, it wasn’t a wall! It was a hallway to the rest of the library and I’m not sure how I missed that. I walked through the magical corridor and was suddenly confronted by bookshelves taller than me and books which would actually take me more than 20 minutes to read. It was breathtaking.
My knowledge of the Dewey-Decimal system was very limited, probably due to my lack of library experience. So I ambled about once again, but this time it was kind of peaceful. I made my way up and down the aisles trying to find the non-fiction section with all the acting books, and on the way I ran into a small man looking for a cookbook specifically for sweet potatoes, and a child who was carrying a stack of books which looked more like a stack of almanacs while simultaneously crushing himself in the process. I felt like I was in a book.
I finally found the section I was looking for, which just so happened to be conveniently stuffed in the back corner of the library with a bunch of other books written in Chinese. I took a huge stack of books off the shelf and shuffled on over to wherever I thought chairs would be and I sat in the first one I saw because if I moved or breathed anymore than necessary, surely people would think I was weird and judge me. Unfortunately, this chair was in the epicenter of all the library bustle (bustle which here means an 80-something year old woman with a full book trolley which was missing a wheel and sitting near that inevitable train wreck was stressing me out), so I gallivanted myself over to a cushy chair with a little desk attached which was facing the window and I knew this was where the library gods wanted me to sit. The sun was shining in just the right spot to where it looked liked angels were throwing little rays of light onto that government funded, well-loved sitting receptacle.
After plopping down obnoxiously and manspreading as much as I could without being a man, I dove into my books and the rest is history. I tried getting a library card, but they wouldn’t let me because I’m not 18 yet. I am trusted to operate a large metal death trap (car), but not handle a book that has been used as a drink coaster. It is okay. Despite all of the obstacles I hit, my library adventure has taught me that we need to preserve these weird smelling buildings with everything we’ve got. I’ve lived in my town for over eight years and not once did I feel a part of the community, until stepping into a place where people just want to read and for you to leave them alone. It was beautiful. Please go visit your local library. And no, you don’t need a ticket to get in.