Return to the Library
Written by John Andreula
Edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
Anyone who has spent any of their childhood in libraries can get nostalgic over what a magical place it is.
Shelf after shelf, section upon section, there is a near endless supply of books and other media to get lost within and consume.
I remember puppet shows and being able to borrow video games and movies from my local library in East Brunswick, New Jersey as a young boy. The brown brick building was nestled against a park with a pond. I would visit the pond and play with/harass the ducks after or before I was done at the library with my mom, my Bubbie, or an uncle in tow.
Then, like most people, I unexpectedly grew up. What a library was to me transformed into something else. It became a place for studying, research, and quiet. It was no longer fun or magical, but while I remained a student it maintained its utility.
I came out to Colorado in 2000 after graduating high school to attend the University of Colorado. I can recall those late night study sessions at the Norlin Library on the Boulder campus where I would doze off at my desk. More often, I would be more concerned with who the cute coeds were that were studying nearby.
I left school the following year, but decided to stay in Boulder. I had no reason to return to Norlin, but on rare occasions I would visit the Boulder Public Library on Canyon and Broadway.
Technology became more intertwined with people’s daily lives. Cellular telephones were becoming common accessories. Internet usage was becoming widespread. myspace was giving way to facebook.¹ Aol. had become obsolete in the wake of technology products like YAHOO! and Google. Text messaging was becoming the standard form of communication.²
Little by little the remaining hold-outs, those “I’ll never get a cell phone” types, got cell phones and email addresses.³ They signed up for high speed internet.
As this transition was occurring, I bought in as well. I was gaming hardcore, I surfed the web a lot, and I partied with the friends I stayed connected with. I wasn’t reading, let alone finding excuses to check out references or the local libraries card catalogs.
The library and I had parted ways. After the last few visits in the early 2000’s, I had made my mind up that the library had become the place where transients went to use the internet. It was no longer a place for me.
Like so many other preconceived notions and biases I had bestowed upon my mind, I was wrong. I wouldn’t learn it for quite some time though. Or should I say I wouldn’t remember what I had always known, which was that the library was a beautiful cultural gift.
Fast forward to 2017. My wife had been taking my daughter to the Boulder library, as well as the one near my hometown in Arvada, a few miles from my house, for the past couple years. My daughter had certainly enjoyed her experiences. She loved bringing home books to read and movies to watch.
Her enthusiasm, as well as that of my wife in sharing the experience with my daughter, was beginning to rub off on me. I was starting to remember what I had forgotten all those years ago.
Weeks later, my daughter’s borrowed materials were due back to the library. It was at that time that my wife invited me to accompany them on their return trip. My wife was aware of my thoughts on and bias against the library, but luckily she invited my reluctant and narrow-minded self anyway.
I went with them to the Standley Lake Library in Jefferson County. Upon entering, I immediately realized that the library wasn’t just about smelly hobos coughing on each other while they checked their Facebook notifications. True, that was happening in the back, but there was so much more than that happening at the library.
My wife and daughter veered right into the children’s section. I veered left.
At the time I had just discovered the television show THE MAGICIANS. It was based on a book of the same title by an author I had yet to read named Lev Grossman. I looked for the book, but was only able to find the second and third books of the trilogy. I did not even know it was a trilogy.
I wandered further into the stacks. Just past the fiction and to the left was an entire section of Japanese animation, or anime, movies, and television shows. There was a TRIGUN movie I had never seen or heard of before, TRIGUN Badlands Rumble, sitting right there on the shelf.
TRIGUN is my all time favorite anime. How was I capable of such an oversight? It begs to the larger question, what else was I missing due to my close-mindedness towards the library scene?
As I browsed the animes the adjacent section caught my eye. Just past these beautiful, artistic, strange films and series were a whole host of graphic novels and manga books. Manga books are serialized Japanese comic books, mostly in black and white, that the majority of animes Americans are exposed to are based upon.
Manga books can hit the mid to upper double digits in volume and have some of the most verdant and vocal fanatics. I am more of a graphic novel fan myself.
Graphic novels, unlike their Japanese counterpart mangas, are usually collections of four or more comic books that can be either hard or soft cover, and are approximately the same size as the comic books they were derived or compiled from. I found another retelling of the Alice In Wonderland story called HATTER M. I also found a strange underwater post-apocalyptic story called LOW. There were many to choose from.
I wandered on, as I am apt to do.
Next I came a upon collection of cookbooks and periodicals. I had little interest in these, so I continued past. One day I may find reason to enter these rows, but for now my curiosity pushed me forward.
Just past the historical books, I struck pure nerd gold. An entire row twice as long as the anime and previous graphic novel section was hiding in the back corner of the library. It was kind of near the social media feed viewing homeless with their large bags and walking sticks. They were busy on the free PCs. I would make myself busy with this beautiful and expansive graphic novel section.
As I sat here in dorky bliss I wondered why I had spent a fortune on collecting the books when so many of them were here for me…to take home…for free.
My wife called my cell phone while I was lost amongst my friends DAKEN, X-23, and BRUCE BANNER. She asked where I was and I told her what I had found. She knew right away that she had created a monster.
I told her I would rendezvous with them soon. I put down the books and made my way across the library. Just past the computers was the digital media.
There were many shelves of movies, TV series, and documentaries. Just next to those were the music CD’s. There were many artists across a multitude of genres.
Just past those were the audio-books. Following those was the children’s’ DVDs, audio-books, and finally the children’s’ book section. My wife was sitting on a sofa watching my daughter play with some other kids on the carpet.
My wife asked me what I thought. I told her that I was going to sign up for a membership. She smirked at me, aware as always of my asinine reasoning and stubbornness that she and my daughter had dispelled with ease.
My wife directed me to go to the front desk and I did. The clerk quickly signed me up for a membership.
She informed me that I had three weeks to borrow most items. I would get only one week for movies and music CD’s. She also informed me that late fees were meager ten cents per day. There would be no initial or recurring fee for membership.
The last thing the clerk showed me was how to special order items that I did not find on the shelves. She showed me that I could select an item and which library I’d like it delivered to. Then I would receive an email once it arrived. Upon notification I’d have seven days to retrieve the item before it was released to the next hold or the general public. I immediately placed a reserve on THE MAGICIANS then and there.
I would reserve countless books, graphic novels, movies, television shows, and music CD’s in the months following that day’s visit. According to my online account I have borrowed 306 items in the year and two months since then. I have read fifty nine books this year.
I have recently taken to listening to audio-books, especially non-fiction self-improvement and business books. It’s an easy way to consume knowledge while doing mindless tasks such as the dishes, laundry, or driving. It’s amazing how much time I spend doing that stuff and how much I can “read” while doing it.
I have accumulated about $1.60 in late fees in the year that has ensued. That is the entirety of the investment I have had to make in relation to the infinite value I take away from my community library. Inversely, today I spend nearly nothing renting, buying, and going to see movies, music, and comics.
I was stupid and crazy for writing off the library for all this time. I know now why the library made me so happy all those years ago as that young boy. There are days when I get so lost in those library stacks that my wife has to call and make sure I’m okay. She reminds me that I have other things to do those days.
I cherish my weekly visits to the library, and recommend content I discover as well as the overall experience of visiting to any of my friends and acquaintances who will listen.
People pay for the library with their taxes. If they are under-utilizing or undervaluing this amazing institution as I was, then I feel bad for them.
Maybe they will come around one day as I did. I just hope for their sake, that they catch themselves before spending tens of thousands of dollars on movies, books, and music they could be borrowing for free.