If someone asked you why you love libraries, how would you answer? For those of us working in the library field, the answer is probably very specific and personal to our own library experiences. What I love most about libraries is hard to put into words—it’s not just that libraries are keepers of knowledge or that they are full of books (which I also love!) or that they are quiet or that the library buildings themselves are often magnificent structures—though all of these are part of why I love libraries. I feel a sense of comfort when I’m in a library, especially a public library. Once, on a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, my fiancé and I were lost somewhere near Greenville, South Carolina and we decided to stop and ask for directions. We drove past some sketchy looking gas stations and abandoned buildings looking for a place to stop, when we saw a little sign that said public library with an arrow pointing down a small street. My fiancé (who has never worked in a library) suggested we stop at the library to ask for directions. I hate to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me to stop at a library for directions but this turned out to be a great idea—we got a chance to visit a beautiful library and chat with their awesome library staff, who gave some tips on restaurants to try, along with the directions.
After my unplanned trip to that South Carolina library I began to think about how visiting other libraries can be a learning experience, as well as helping us remember why we love libraries. My experience in that South Carolina public library was that of a patron, not a librarian, and I paid attention to how the library staff interacted with us—I felt appreciated and reassured that I would get whatever information I needed (in this case, directions)…and I felt that familiar feeling of comfort once again. I wondered if I gave my patrons that same feeling. If not, how could I do this? Being aware of it is probably a good first step.
Weeks later I stopped by my local library and noticed that the woman working at the circulation desk was talking very loudly—too loud for a library I thought. But I glanced around and no one seemed to be bothered by it. No one working at my local public library knows that I’m a librarian—I like being just a library patron for a change. But now I pay more attention to how I feel as a patron in whatever library I’m in and I ask myself if I like feeling this way and if so, why? And of course, I’m reminded of why I’ve always loved libraries.