When people complain about high taxes, I think of the library as one of the best returns on my taxpayer dollar. I definitely have gotten my money’s worth from this public service. In fact, it has defined my life.
I don’t remember getting my first library card, but I do remember the first library that opened up new horizons for me – a small branch library in Brooklyn, one neighborhood away. I went there with my brother and father. By the time I was in junior high, I went there after school on my own.
That was where I first saw the girls from St. Francis of Assisi all dressed alike in their dark green monogrammed jumpers, something I would have had no access to in my all-Jewish neighborhood. Years later, I married a lapsed Catholic.
This was the same place where, working on a school assignment, I discovered that my neighborhood was characterized as lower-middle class and started to ponder the class hierarchy. I eventually became a sociologist.
In high school, far from Brooklyn, it was a downtown main library rather than a branch. I think it was here that I first became aware of the library as a shelter for those with no place to go. The irony of these down-and-out individuals surrounded by the best intellectual work of Western civilization was undoubtedly a stimulus to my political activism.
I finished college at the height of the craziness of the 1960s and spent a few years without any clear direction. While I was finding myself, I spent a lot of time at the library. I read current fiction mostly, but also discovered popular psychology and self-help books. When I did become a sociologist, I focused on social psychology.
The library contributed to my education in classical music, at the time lending vinyl LPs. I also found some terrific magazines to help me pursue my lifelong love of needle arts. The Japanese crocheted lace patterns stand out in my memory as something I would never have seen elsewhere. All of this was free at a time when I had very little money.
When I finally found myself, I ended up in the library, working at a variety of positions over the next 15 years. It was probably the best of my several careers. As a cataloger, I discovered art books and started to fill in more gaps from my formal education. As a college librarian, I discovered I enjoyed teaching students to do research. It inspired me to move on to academic teaching and research.
Now that I am retired, the library is still an important haven. I need it and I usually manage to be there once a week. These days, the library has even more than books, music and craft magazines. I borrow music on CD now. I borrow quirky old movies. I use the computers to check email and the scanner to copy things. I hear interesting noontime speakers. I meet friends for lunch. I borrow novels and when I can’t find the ones I want, I request them through interlibrary loan. I even find some in a foreign language, as I try to keep my aging brain alive.
My long-term love affair with the library has given me countless hours of enjoyment and enrichment, and it goes way beyond books. The only cost to me is the occasional late fee if I keep something out too long. So yes, I believe that libraries are worth every penny we taxpayers put into them. They have paid me back many times over. I owe them, big time.