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Please Don’t Kill My Library.

Yesterday in the car my daughter asked: “Mom? Did they have libraries when you were young?” Ahem. Dear child, just months ago I helped you complete a few facts on Ben Franklin, founder of the first library. Good god, HOW OLD do you think I am???

Actually, don’t answer that.

What strikes me as odd as we drive along (me now lost in my thoughts, them lost in their books), is that her daughter or son may be asking her that question some day. But, instead, in the form of: “Mom? What’s a library?”

Or am I just a pessimist?

The LA Times Blog, Jacket Copy, ran this story last week on the Los Angeles Library cutting back hours and services. Sadly, my first thought was: is this news? I can’t count the times in the last year we have stood outside our local library, my kids whining as they view the “Closed” sign on the door and blaming me for not calling in advance. The closures here in the East Bay feel random and too frequent. There is no doubt the library system is struggling.

The thought of losing our libraries saddens me. My memories are all relatively good ones. (Which is surprising in some sense, because I am a loud person.)

I had this very strong memory of standing at the Central Library with my mom as a teenager. We were preparing for the annual Spring Break pilgrimage to Florida. You Midwesterners in the crowd may be the only ones to understand this (because it is really just plain insanity), but we were going to be driving the 1,400 mile trip and we needed loads of books for the car. Oh, and mind you, we didn’t drive just ONE year, we drove EVERY year.

Let’s just call it 10+ years, 28,000 miles and about 200 novels. Welcome to Crazy Town.

I’m sure I was sullen, uncooperative and critical as I followed my Mom through the stacks. She pulled suggestions off the shelf: “The Great Gatsby?”, “Death in the Afternoon?” “The Prince of Tides?” Each to which I would shrug noncommittally or ask rudely: “What’s it about?” And in particular, I can remember my mom pushing An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. A couple of years in a row. A bad time series–me in the ugly Levi’s shirt, the velour top, the letter sweater….each year saying no no no to An American Tragedy.

This book choice was in fact rather hip of her, don’t you think? It was a progressive approach to sex education, perhaps designed to scare the pants back on us.

So, where’s the good memory? I guess with adult eyes I can see that she was there instilling the love of reading. That she knew so much about fiction and she had good taste and that she encouraged us to try different things. That part is all Mom. But the library made the conversation possible. So easy, so accessible, so reliable.

And now I stand in the stacks with my own kids: “Ramona & Beezus?” “SuperFudge?” “Swiss Family Robinson?” And they respond ‘Already read it‘, ‘Nahhhh‘ or give the dreaded shrug. Payback is a bitch.

But yet, they still leave the library every two weeks with a sack of 40 books.
And I am just not prepared to give that up.

Has your library services changed in the last few years? Is it part of your family ritual? What’s the future of libraries?


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