The library is like that life-long friend, who no matter how many years it has been since you've seen them, you feel right at home the minute you walk in.
You know if you are in a strange town you can go to the library and feel at home. There are only a handful of things to figure out and clearly marked signs to help you. Where are the newspapers? Where are the new releases? In five minutes you have the lay of the land. You can pick a seat and observe humanity and think 'I bet Charlotte Bronte is right over there in the Bo-Ce aisle'.
You can wander through the children's section and probably see bright colors, a fish tank, and shorter book shelves. And if you look for Boxcar children, they will be there. Some places, like some friends, are safe places.
If you were a small-minded person like me, you could quickly judge the town you are in. Magazines: Do they have 'Writer's Digest'? If not, backwater.
Class-neutral. I was recently at the Oak Park, IL library for a length of time and I saw such liveliness. Hipster families of three in their matching Northface coats, skinny jeans and black frame glasses. Sweat-shirted group of possible gin-rummy players with badly died hair, 20-something Asian girl in a tailored red wool coat. A young mother, her five-year-old daughter in twenty-year-old Little Mermaid boots. Coughing older gentleman in parking deck attendant uniform. Vogue Model look-alikes who were speaking a Russian-ish language. Three young boys with a curly-red-haired grandma, all of them frowning but rushing purposefully to hit the elevator button first.
None of them looked frazzled, confused, or lost.
My therapist (used to have one, currently I just imagine what she would say) would say I love the library because it was the one place my father told me from about the age of six that if I asked him to take me there, he'd never say 'No'. He probably regretted that promise more than once, after a long day at work, coming home in our only vehicle, and being greeted by 'Can you take me to the library, Daddy?' This original Carnegie library is so old I could only find a sketch of it online:
My sixth grade self would tell you my stack of books that never ran out, that one summer of Pringles and pale legs in our silent living room, it cemented our friendship. This newer building was built around the time I was ten... (the 70's)
The Milner library in my college years -- I wasn't much for studying there, I preferred to be in my uncomfortable dorm bed for that, but I liked to go there, smell the books, listen to the murmurs, write my boyfriend long letters, and generally experience a bit of safety. Staidness.
There was the day in the Winfield Public Library when I was still pregnant with my first that I discovered the non-fiction section on 'How to be a Writer' and the universe aligned. Within a few days of reading everything their meager selection offered in this section of the Dewey decimal system, I realized at the old age of 24 I had missed my calling, already gainfully employed in the computer industry.
There was the St. Charles Public library where I was a storytime mommy and me virgin. And then the reunion when I moved back to my home town and renewed my relationship with that building, mostly taking preschoolers to storytime and occasionally sneaking over to the adult side, new releases only because they were within hearing distance of the kids section, to find something to read. Four sweet words. This is also the era (90's?) when I discovered the library could keep me regular. Gastro-intestinally speaking. A mystery for a smarter person than me to solve.
Generally people think the library is old school. It is not. It is the original solution to short attention spans. If someone invented the concept today they'd be billionaires.
I go there to write.
And get audio books for long trips, watch violin quartets, visit the book sale room, visit old (books I have known) friends, find out about local events on the community bulletin board. Shots taken at my hometown library recently...
I view artwork exhibits, listen to community speakers, attend reading groups. I've seen my niece's American Girl Collection on display. I've figured out who lived in my current house in 1898, 1908... I've searched paper college catalogs when I was thinking about where to go to college. I've met people who became good friends (Leslie). Have I mentioned its free?
F R E E
I strongly believe the library has a place in our futures just like in our pasts. And as long as I live, I will feel at home there, no matter what city, no matter what age. Libraries are a good familiar. As much as I love change, I also love a good familiar.