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National Library Week, Part One: “Lives Change @ your Library”

Down by the Bridge
Down by the Bridge
Catherine Al-Meten

National Library Week, Part One: “Lives Change @ your Library”

This week, April 13-19, is National Library Week. This year’s theme, “Lives Change@your library” sums up the kind of life-altering experiences you can have at a library.

For just a moment, think back over some of the times you have had at different libraries. The library has been an important part of my life. My Mother made sure we had our library cards, and she introduced me to the library-a place that would be one of the most important parts of my life wherever I went. My memories include: sitting at the University of Connecticut in Hartford reading the ship logs of the first immigrants to come to this country and reading the Little House on the Prairie series, while watching the duck pond ice over during a blizzard. Reading the yellowed pages of dissertations written in 1904 and 1905 in the Cal Tech library in Pasadena, or going to the brand new Ruth Bach Library as a child, and spending hours exploring books that took me to other lands, times, and realities.

My first trip to a library with my Mother and Sister, being a bookmobile that parked in the local shopping center once a week. “Going to the library” was and is, one of my favorite things to do. I remember every summer signing up for the reading contests, and carrying armloads of books home each week to read. I read constantly, and found a great escape in the library and in the books I found there. Daphne Du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe. The lives of the English, French, and Spanish queens and their courts. Autobiographies and biographies. Learning the Dewey Decimal System, and then having to learn the other system in university. The card catalogue and the computer data banks....endless sources of layer upon layer of information.

I remember taking my daughter to the Monterey Public Library, and meeting there every day after she got home from school and I got off work. And I recall returning years later, to discover a center for activity, excitement, entertainment, discovery, and learning. Taking my Granddaughter to the libraries in San Francisco, and sitting at the old North Beach Library watching her play with her friends on the Joe DiMaggio Playground outside. Watching the new North Beach branch being built. Teaching in classes in the conference rooms of Cal State Long Beach, and studying for hours and years at the new library at CSUDH--the place I first learned to study at a desk instead of the kitchen table or my bedroom. Studying with friends and by myself in the library at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, and making myself at home in the Marylhurst University’s Shoen Library for all the years of studying and teaching and writing that I did there. Teaching students how to use the library at the University of Portland, and discovering myself, a new path for my own life.

Sitting hour upon hour, day after day, researching, writing, and poring through books, papers, and ideas as I wrote essays, theses, and my dissertation. A place to search for information--looking for jobs, looking for solutions to problems, or making plans for trips, adventures, and new ways of approaching life. Discovering the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and learning how to unlock the mysteries of hieroglyphics. Studying Arabic, and learning how to read the Qur’an and the poetry of Hafiz. Learning about astronomy, astrology, and physics, and reading all the works of Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, and Steinbeck. Sitting in the library room where Steinbeck wrote part of the Grapes of Wrath, and walking into the oldest library in California, feeling the past, the present, and the hope of the future.

Libraries are places that are full of life, and memories of libraries also include helping out with Toddler Story Time, attending the Friends of the Library annual Chocolate and Strawberry Fundraiser or the monthly sidewalk book sales. Libraries are about meeting friends, and making new ones. Libraries are places to sit with neighbors, strangers, and people from all walks of life. Libraries are living places of connection and sources of quiet, calm, and exploration for everyone.

My first job was at the main branch of the Long Beach Public Library, where I stamped cards, checked in and out tobacco-reeking books of the patrons who came in week after week, their arms filled with books, their only companions. I have studied in libraries, sought refuge from all kinds of storms in libraries, and sat beside my favorite people in libraries all over the world. University libraries like UCSD in La Jolla or Yale University in New Haven Connecticut. In La Jolla we were caught in an earthquake in the University library, and I imagined what it might be like to be buried under all those books. I met my husband in front of a library daily for the first year of our marriage. I took my daughter to the Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, and to the Ranchos in the San Gabriel Valley, San Diego, Carmel, and San Juan Capistrano. In Portland, I walked to the corner street library, where neighbors and strangers left books, produce, and articles of clothing for whoever needed or wanted them. The Main branch of the library in Portland is one of my favorite libraries, and the local branches, though not nearly as architecturally interesting as the old main branch, provide the same source of connection that keeps me in search of more time, more experiences, and more enjoyment in the library.

These memories are just some of what fills me up with excitement at the thought of the word library. We are so fortunate to have such a great library system, and commitment to free public access to information, books, and connection.

This week, be sure to get out and visit your local library. Perhaps this is something you do regularly, or maybe not. Spend some of your valuable time making new memories, discovering new ideas and opportunities, and finding time in your life for going to the library. Libraries are full of so many opportunities, possibilities, information, and places to get involved, connected, turned on, excited, and energized. Go inside a local library, open a book or ten, and discover something wonderful that is waiting for you. Spend some time in your library memories, and in makng some new ones. In the next article, let's look at some of the mysteries and surprises you can find at your library.