I sometimes wonder if I didn’t already work in a library if I’d remember how important they are. Many people young and old have fond memories of their public or school library but forget about its place in their lives. It’s like a favorite toy long forgotten; we relegate libraries to the now dusty shelf of our past and move on to other things. Who needs to be concerned about a place we don’t use anymore? We all should be because the magic we once felt is still being felt today.
Libraries are one of the few places where they have changed so much and yet so little from our childhood. Actually, it’s unlikely that if you were to return to your childhood library that its contents have remained the same. I remember as a child growing up in Jamaica how I enjoyed going to the library and reading after school. My grandparents were business owners and so they were often too busy to spend too much time with me throughout the week. The library is where I went to do homework, to read books, and where I went to escape from whatever may be going on in the outside world. Within the walls of the library, I was safe. To this day that feeling has never changed. On a recent trip back to Jamaica I drove by the library and my heart and face smiled. It was more freshly painted but there it was, in the same place, still containing all its many treasures.
When I moved back to the US I, with a bit of nostalgic glow, remember the feeling of excitement I had when I went to the school’s media center. I remember the transition from card catalogs to online catalogs. I experienced that transition much like I’ve experienced so many other technological improvements of the last twenty or so years, on the ground floor. What’s special about the changes in libraries is that it has in many ways mirrored that of changes in technology. It sometimes feels as though just yesterday things were one way and today, completely different. I blinked and somehow over 15 years has passed since GeorgiA LIbrary LEarning Online (GALILEO) was introduced to the state. Did you know that as a citizen of Georgia you have a unique and free opportunity to access encyclopedias, magazines, and so many other resources online through GALILEO? Go to http://www.galileo.usg.edu for more information and contact your local public library for the password for full access. It’s more than just a research tool for students. It’s arguably Georgia’s first collaborative public-use web-based virtual library. The same can be said of PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services), which is comprised of the majority of the public libraries in the state. This service extends borrowing and other privileges to, for example, an individual who lives in Milledgeville to use the resources in a Conyers library. And this service is also free!
The existence of virtual libraries isn’t to take away from the need for the brick and mortar library facilities. And the need for virtual library resources should also serve as a reminder of the library’s ever evolving place in society. Yes, like many I am sure that had it not been for me working in a library that as I grew older I’d likely relegate my memories of the time spent in libraries to a bookshelf in my mind. But with this being Library Card Sign-up Month I wanted to remind you all of the important place libraries still hold today. They’ve changed, yes, as everything must. However, libraries remain as much a requirement and a staple of the community as it always has been.
At the Twin Lakes Library System, for example, gone are the days of the “shh-ing” librarian. The library is a place to meet, socialize, network, learn, and grow. In layman’s terms, it’s the place where many come to email, Facebook, and pick up a really good book to read (or listen to). There are hidden gems at the library that many don’t know about. Need a place to conduct a meeting? Need an item notarized? Want to check out new books and new movies? Want access to downloadable audiobooks and eBooks? Want children’s and teen programming? Need to use a computer with Internet access for 15 minutes or 5 hours? Need wireless access? Yes, this is just a short list of the services that are available for FREE at your public library! In addition there are fax, copy, and scanning services available and the lowest cost bookstore in town on-site.
As you have changed, so too have libraries. Today’s library has books side by side with computers. There’s an array of educational and recreational resources that don’t just come inside of a book (although they can). And like many public entities, the library is often looked at when trying to trim budgets. Just know that in both good and bad economic times the library will always serve as the intellectual and cultural equalizer. The library is not only a place of your past; it’s a place of our present and futures. If you don’t have a library card or haven’t been to the library in awhile, there’s nothing to hold you back. Visit your library today!
This article appeared on page 5A in the 9/14/11 issue of The Union-Recorder.