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Friday, November 4, 2011

The Library, a Safe Harbor

Comfort. This is my memory of the library.

As a small girl, the library held all the questions and answers; all the mysteries of the universe. It housed history and hope, and it was all there for the asking. When immersed in the stacks, I was surrounded by thousands of dear old bound friends--I loved the feel of them, the smell of them, starting them, finishing them.

The library was my world. It was the place where I was introduced to everything interesting, remarkable, and exhilarating. I learned about countries I would visit in the future, sports I played as a child and would later compete in, activities I would take part in, fields of study I would enter. Most importantly, it began my love affair with the written word.

As young children, my two best friends and I rode our bikes to the Bryant Library, named after William Cullen Bryant, the famous poet and journalist. Dating back to 1878, this was the oldest library in Nassau County. Located in the old Village of Roslyn, Long Island, it overlooked the Roslyn Duck Pond. We preferred its old Reading Room, along with the letter Bryant wrote explaining that he laid the foundation for this Reading Room because “the people have no places to meet in the evening, save the bar rooms.”

We loved the rich history of our library, and held “study dates” there after school two or three days a week. For us, the library was inexorably linked to freedom and fun. We curled up in the big, old, armchairs in front of the fireplace in the Reading Room in late afternoons and evenings. We did our homework, played word games, whispered, and secretly snacked on pretzels, muffling our crunching so that the librarians wouldn’t shush us.

Years later, we drove our folks’ cars to the library. When we got our driver’s licenses, our moms couldn’t refuse us these noble excursions. It was cool to study there and prep each other for the English Regents and the SAT’s. It was all free and it still is: the library continues to offer books, along with a tremendous diversity of services, including free internet access, courses, classes, audiobooks, CD’s, DVD’s, etcetera. A visit to the library still holds the promise of exciting new and old ideas; it is still a place to curl up on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

The future of the library is of great concern to many of us baby boomers who grew up with it. To be sure, information retrieval can take many forms; diversity and choices add another dimension to our lives. But one thing is clear: a book cannot be replaced by text and images on a screen any more than a mere photograph of a Picasso can substitute for the experience of standing before the real thing in a museum. Many of us still want to savor the genuine article.

May libraries continue to inspire children and adults.

Blog posting provided by Laraine Jablon

Laraine Jablon, BA, MA, is a freelance writer specializing in social, health, and spiritual concerns of seniors. She resides in Nesconset, New York, and welcomes your thoughts.