Friday, January 30, 2009

Library Bytes: Public Libraries Rule!

I know some of my librarian friends & colleagues read bklynbiblio, so this post may seem like I'm preaching to the choir, but for those who are not librarians, allow me a moment to point out something: PUBLIC LIBRARIES RULE! I just came to this realization once again only this afternoon. The last time was in July 2008 when my dear friend SVH took me around her public library in Florida. I was dumbfounded by the work she does in conjunction with the enormity of services and facilities their public library provides. But today's realization had to do with homework. One of my professors has assigned a book to which we have to write a response paper. The book is Empire of Signs by Roland Barthes (1970; trans. 1982), in which the author speculates on his visit to Japan, wondering if his experience of this culture (which he never names) is the same or different from what someone else's experience of it may be. (It sounds horribly enervating, I know, but Barthes actually was an amazing scholar, and other works of his that I have read have been provocative and illuminating. But I digress.) So, as it turns out, my school library doesn't have a copy of this book and I did what I normally do, which is look into buying the book. When you go to Barnes & Noble online, you can search to see if a book is available in one of their stores in the City, but in this case there was no such luck. The Strand Bookstore didn't have it either, and they usually have everything. Ordering it online was out of the question because the assignment is due soon. Then something occurred to me. Why not search the Brooklyn Public Library online catalogue? Now, I should say at this point that I do have a BPL library card. I'm very proud to say that it was one of the first things I did when I moved to Brooklyn. In fact, my local branch of the BPL system in Carroll Gardens is an original Andrew Carnegie-funded library from the early 1900s, which you can see in the very cool archival photograph here, courtesy of the BPL website. But do you think I've been in a BPL building since then? Nope. The thing is, I don't usually think about using public libraries. It's crazy. I'm a librarian, and I never go to the public library. The main branch of the New York Public Library doesn't count because that's a research institution. Sure I'm always at school or museum libraries doing work, but never the public library. Why would I need to go? Here's why. Because it's the one place in the entire world where you can walk into a building with a card and take a book out so you can read it without having to pay for it. All you have to do is take care of it and return it on time. I mean, think about what an amazing privilege that is! As a citizen of this city to which I pay taxes, I'm entitled to walk in and take out any book (or DVD, for that matter) they may have on their shelves, for free. What an idea! What a concept! And if that wasn't enough, the public library also provides space for people to read or do homework (the branch was filled with people when I was there), and it offers educational and fun programs for children and adults (there were a bunch of children in some sort of reading session when I was there). There was even a display in the library of toys from the early 1900s that was fascinating. And it's all free! All of this occurred to me this afternoon as I left the library, because it turns out they did have a copy of it. It was easy to find and sitting there waiting for me. So, big deal, it was in the Brooklyn Heights branch a 20-minute walk away. But if it had been a big deal, all I would have had to do was go to my local branch, order the book, and they would have delivered it to my local branch in a few days. When I'm done reading it, I can return it to my branch, not the owning branch. The convenience factor to all of this is mind-boggling. How could you not want to take advantage of this? So, readers, all I have to say is that if you have not explored your local public library, do so. You're already paying for it in a way, so you might as well take advantage of it. Do it now though, before your local government cuts its funding because they think no one is using this amazing service.


paulran said...

And what lovely buildings these libraries contributed to their neighborhoods. They are the epitome of good stewardship of the public realm: preserving books, providing access to knowledge to all, and making their corners of town more beautiful. They were constructed for posterity in a way that we can't even fathom today.

Anonymous said...

I googled my way onto this blog because I'm actually at the carroll gardens library now, and I am frustrated with the fact that the kids' area has ventured way out of the realm of books and become a general play area that nannies bring their charges to for hours at a time. The Ottendorfer library has a similar area, but it's completely separate from the rest of the library. Here there's no noise barrier, so working at the library means finding a way to drown out the sound of toddlers fighting over toys. I love taking my niece to the library's story time programs, but there has to be a better place in the community for an indoor playground than the place where people come to read and study and work.

I guess I'm just venting cuz there's nothing else to do about it. Thanks for your time.