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Joys of a Library

I find it hard to imagine a better Saturday morning activity than going to a Library Book Sale. Especially if it’s late Saturday morning (coffee and breakfast have been injested), and now that the morning is waning, all books are $5 a bag. Fill a brown paper grocery bag for $5? Nonsense? But it’s true. Libraries have to clear their books to make way for new books, so everyone wins. This morning I bought children’s books for my friends. Creating a Self Portrait, Painting Better Landscapes, and an oversized book of Mary Cassatt’s work, art-oriented media that will no doubt be incorporated into future American Spark blog posts. I also picked up a booklet of Bach piano sheet music. Treasures, I tell you. And what a treasure a public library is.

My friend in Western Massachusetts, Laurie Sanders, has been lauded for her ability to turn a public library into a fun, community-centric place. In 2010, in Westhampton, Massachusetts, Laurie and other inspirational advocates raised $2 million to restore and re-open the Westhampton Public Library. Along with the town’s annual fall festival, they “did it up” with pumpkin rolling, corn shucking, cow pie bingo,* cider pressing, and a community sing-along and bonfire. That’s community. And that’s what libraries are meant to be about. Anyone can get online and research an article or read a book on a Kindle. But libraries provide a hub that no digital media can. People meet there. People greet each other. They smile. Events of all kinds happen at libraries that you probably aren’t aware of. Libraries have Writers in Residence and Artists in Residence. They host readings, concerts, lectures, workshops. Libraries engage people young and old in the art of storytelling. They teach children arts and crafts. They teach adults how to use computers. At an American library on any given day you can learn anything from shadow puppets to papier mache to playing an instrument. Popular programs include Help with Homework, family movie nights, local lore, authors signings, and so much more. It’s a playground for the stimulation-starved human.

Westhampton Public Library, Massachusetts. Photo by Christine Kress.

Westhampton Public Library, Massachusetts. Photo by Christine Kress.

I remember a recent visit in Roseville, California with a friend and her children, when we went to the Riley Community Library. I’ve never seen the children dash so quickly to a building. They were heading for the books, yes, but also this library had a giant set of lightweight styrofoam building blocks for constructing large structures. And a recycled model of debris turned into a massive structure. And a cool participatory environmental game involving both chance and skill. And when it was time to sit and read, all four were silently engrossed in their selections of books. It’s no wonder trips to the library have become a regularly scheduled family outing.

Riley Community Library, Roseville, California.

Riley Community Library, Roseville, California.

I will always treasure our public libraries. As we lose human connection to thumb-driven digital interfacing, libraries hold a place in our communities that is more vital than ever before. You don’t have to wait for the next book sale to go, but it’s a great to place to start.

*Let a cow wander around after everyone has placed bets on the grids on the ground. Wherever the cow drops a cow-pie, the closest bet wins! Doesn’t work with bulls.

$5 bag o’ books. Atlee Public Library, Virginia.

$5 bag o’ books. Atlee Public Library, Virginia.

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May-Lily Lee