Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Library Rules

Yes, we're back in the midwest, but really just passing through this time. It's a quickie but a goodie that's given us a chance to meet and greet some of our hometown friends, do a few things around the house and enjoy some fall weather. Soon, we'll be heading back to North Carolina, where our son and daughter-in-law's busy schedules have us in high demand as grandson-sitters, dog walkers and taxi drivers. Meanwhile, it's been fun, with a wedding to attend and play music for and an upcoming opportunity to speak at a library conference in Springfield later this week. Now, I'm no expert on libraries or really much of anything else, either, but my background as an advertising/marketing guy and the notoriety I've somehow gained from writing this column were just enough, I guess, for the organizers to send an invitation my way. I'm going to do a presentation on "Selling your library," which is an interesting enough topic given the fact that some people probably think libraries are a thing of the past. After all, the worldwide web has given many, many folks access to oodles of information, entertainment and other material without ever needing to walk into a library building.
I have some serious doubts about that concept, many of which stem from the concerns I have about the rolling mass of unregulated, hit-or-miss content passing itself off as fact on the internet. And besides, most libraries have adopted and adapted the web and other advanced technologies in ways that make their own package of services more useful and attractive than ever.
But for me, the biggest selling point is much simpler.
I love the library.
The affair between me and those buildings full of books started back when I was a kid. Things were different then, at least in my house. My thrifty father wasn’t sure television would really catch on, so it was a while before we bothered to get a set of our own. And even after we did, my book-loving mother felt there were better things for a kid to do when he wasn't playing baseball, mowing the lawn or breaking the garage window for the millionth time. Like go to the library.
So I was a kid who went there early and often.
In those days, the Galva library was run by a strict, iron-willed local legend who ruled the place like Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of hell in Greek mythology.
”Let me see your hands,” she’d bark as I entered her temple. Like as not, she’d send me to the bathroom to scrub and dry my dirty little paws like a pint-sized doctor preparing for brain surgery.
The rules were tough, but simple. No talking. No gum chewing. No talking. No eating or drinking. No talking. Wash your hands. No talking. A three-book limit. And, uh, no talking.
Now you might think her boot camp approach to books would have caused me to abandon "serious" reading for the comic books at my father's drug store, and there is no doubt that I appreciated the adventures of Superman, the Flash and the Fantastic Four. But I was used to a world where adults bossed kids around all the time, and it was well worth it to get my hands on the now-classic fare that filled my reading menu. Authors like John R. Tunis, Charles Spain Verral and Colonel Red Reeder were important figures in my world as I read and re-read every book they wrote, while waiting impatiently for the next in line. A while back, my sister unearthed a copy of Reeder's "West Point Plebe," and I read it yet again with much the same engrossed enthusiasm I had when I was eleven.
I guess I've changed a little since then. I know the library has.
As a grandparent, I'm now just about as likely to be looking for story hour and the children's department, where we hope to share the love of reading with our grandsons.
Meanwhile, people actually talk out loud at the library. And laugh, even.
There's more stuff, too. Like computers and movies and CDs.
And that's kind of what it's all about, because, over time, libraries have grown and changed and evolved right with us, while not moving so fast as to leave anyone behind. So someone like me can still find a book by John R. Tunis while someone like my youngest grandson hears a story by Dr. Seuss while someone like my daughter-in-law searches the internet while someone like the Star Courier's Carol Gerrond, as noted in her column last week, can even learn to use a Kindle.
All that, and more, at the library.
I'll meet you there sometime.
Right after I wash my hands.

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