I didn’t recognize any of the people working at my community’s library today. I still get surprised when that happens. Despite being aware of the policy changes that were instituted a while back, I just cannot get accustomed to not knowing the staff.
Over the years, our library system has announced a number of “new and improved” policies. Sometimes, the change is a good one, as when card catalogues became computerized. Other times, I have to wonder why anyone wanted to tinker with a successfully functioning system.
When our county declared that librarians were going to rotate through the branches, rather than be assigned permanent positions, there was an attempt to explain how beneficial this would be. Both librarians and patrons would be better served. I didn’t get it.
To my shame and regret, I didn’t plan a protest rally. I didn’t even express my dismay to the local newspaper’s editor or to the “Friends of the Library” fundraising group. That reflected a busy life, not a lack of concern.
For years, my children and I spent hours each week at the library. We attended programs and special classes, but most of all we roamed the shelves and checked out books. Over time, the librarians learned of each of my children’s unique interests and abilities. Frequently, they recommended books, assisted them in research projects and in general, became part of their educational support network. The library was our greatest resource for homeschooling material and it was also friendly to our budget.
Had there been no easy access to a library my children would have still been surrounded by books. They would have still had adults in their lives encouraging them to read and pointing them in the direction of worthwhile material. Not all children are so fortunate.
The public library system offers the gift of books to all. Through the generations librarians have been the interface to those books for scores of immigrants or neglected children.
Today, I can reserve books online, check myself out using a computer, and never interact with a human being. If I do have a question, anyone working behind the desk can answer it. I can even type it in my computer and never exchange a word with a person. That’s fine for me, though I certainly prefer to see familiar faces and share greetings. But for a child for whom the library serves as a haven and a doorway into a better future, the computer cannot replace a living person expressing interest in his life. A strange face each time she visits means there is no one to notice that she has read a particularly challenging book or prefers non-fiction to fiction. Libraries should exude welcome and comfort, not impersonal bureaucracy.
As Emily Dickinson said:
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
Not only books, but librarians as well, are capable of being chariots. I have no idea what the government officials who instituted the rotating librarian policy were thinking. It would be lovely if they would think again.