Being Library Lovers’ Month, I thought it only proper that the kids and I should head to our local library. Seriously, to go a whole month without a library visit is unheard of for us, but moving and sickness set us back. When we walked in, our new library felt all wrong to me. For one thing, it had one of those really high ceilings with lots of columns and windows in the roof with an office section in the center like a super column. Maybe the architect was going for openness. It was certainly impressive, but I felt like an ant. There were two librarians on opposite ends of the circulation desk. There I was, at the front of that massive desk, wondering which one to walk over to.
We toured the building to get acquainted with the layout. One of my kids commented on how loud it was. I’m not sure why it was loud—no one was talking. It didn’t have that cozy, considerate “Shhh! People are reading in here!” quality.
The kids wanted to know if they could check out books on Pokemon, graphic novel biographies, Lenape Native Americans, President Taft, horses, and princesses. So, we went to what I assumed was the online catalog, which was actually one of many kiosks where you scan your library card to check out books. Did I feel embarrassed when I figured this out? No because, at that point, I’d been to three different computer stations and none of them gave me the option of the library catalog. I was annoyed. I finally gave up and walked over to a corner of the deserted-looking circulation desk again to ask where the catalog was. Fortunately, they did have one. (I was beginning to wonder if I needed to use my phone to look it up.)
The whole library was impersonal. That’s what it was: impersonal. A library is a symbol of community. It’s the access point for local information on programs and services. It should exude a feeling of connectedness, friendliness, humanness. It’s so easy to log in to the online library and, with a few clicks, check out that electronic book for a couple of weeks. Easy, but impersonal.
I’m used to going to community-focused libraries with friendly librarians who greet me and my kids by name when we walk through the door. I’ve grown accustomed to checking the little exhibit shelves, advertising local talent of all sorts. If the alarm goes off in one of these community libraries, no one thinks anything of it. The patron just goes back and has the books scanned again—because, obviously, one didn’t scan properly. When the alarm went off in this building, everyone’s eyes went to the man walking out. I wanted to tell him, “Run! Flee with your books before they decide to do a pat down!”
Goodbye, community library! Goodbye, librarian who likes to wear the bright sweaters and waxes his mustache into curly cues! I’ll miss you. I’ll miss how you used to grin using one side of your mouth so that your mustache looked uneven. I’ll miss how you always slipped a bookmark into my latest selection and how you knew everything there was to know about hummingbird-watching—which I had no interest in at all until you showed me pictures of your returning hummingbirds. I’ll miss you because the library is now automated.