One of my favorite pastimes – and who wouldn’t have guessed – is reading. Ever since I was able to hold books, I was fascinated by their haptic and their content, starting from my first children’s books to the art books that my parents let me leaf through when I was pre-reading age. Today, I have accumulated a list of way over 2,000 books I have read (many books are not listed for I forgot their titles, as I not always wrote down what I was reading at the time). And, again, you might have guessed it: I haven’t ever owned every single one. I have almost always been an avid user of libraries.
I got my first library card when I was eight. For whatever reason that was the age when you could ask for one. I was proud as Punch to check out my own books – and I was probably one of the few kids in my class who made use of such a service. The downside to going to the library without an adult guardian was that I was supposed to read the books that were meant for my age group … well, I complied a few times. But my parents understood my curiosity and knew that I had started reading young adult novels a while ago. I mean, we were a reading family, and I grew up listening to my parents reading all kinds of literature to either the entire family or to each other.
When I thought of taking up my first job, guess where I applied! Of course – the local library. I was 14, and I would work one afternoon per week for 2 Deutsche Mark an hour. It wasn’t a fortune money-wise, but it meant entering the working world, getting more self-confidence, enjoying an environment from behind the scenes that others only knew as readers. It meant responsibility and visibility in the world of grown-ups. It meant being taken seriously. It meant working with treasured objects. I was only able to do this for a year; after that school took up most of my time, and studying was more important than earning some extra pocket-money.
There were times in my life after that when I almost lived in libraries. The one at my university faculty held books that were not meant to be borrowed. So, I sat there for entire days and studied and took notes from books that I knew were rarities. Or I went to the state library, which was way less fun. There you chose your books from index cards held in file cabinets. Myriads of index cards in hundreds of file cabinets. Then you sat in the cafeteria and waited for the books to be collected for you from the library’s catacombs. More often then not, not the entire order could be filled. And sometimes you were sent to the reading hall to receive a book there because it wasn’t supposed to leave the premises.
When I became a journalist, my daily agenda collided with library opening times. That was when I bought books like crazy. All of you, who have read my former column, “Home from Home”, know that I had to give away loads of those when I moved this side of the globe. Immigrants have to sacrifice a lot of their material goods – later “traveling lightly” gets a habit. At least it did with me.
Coming to Steilacoom, later here to Lakewood, I have become a library reader again. I hugely enjoy the opportunity to come across books that otherwise wouldn’t catch my attention just because I’d never heard about them. Of course, I still buy books – most often because I know the author personally and am plain curious about their latest. Sometimes, I win a book or I get one as a gift. But most of my reading adventures hail from public libraries.
These days, we are lucky some are open at all – the librarians offer curbside service! I haven’t tried it yet, and currently I’m good with reading material. I will try the new service sooner or later, of course, though I cannot wait to stand in front of a shelf again and look at the treasures of wisdom and entertainment. I think public libraries are essential businesses for a lot of people like me. For some it’s an actual lifeline, for me it is an opportunity to let the mind wander and to learn, to distract myself from the daily imbroglio on the news.
As our librarians struggle to upkeep the service, let me just send a warmhearted salute to the keepers of media that have been changing the world ever since the first one was written. They have so much more on their hands these days than “just” cataloging and keeping the place in order and whatnot. They help keeping us sane while doing their best to keep us (and hopefully themselves) safe. Simply: Thank you!