The first article I wrote for Book Riot was about libraries. At the time, I was seeing many news articles questioning the future of libraries, and how relevant they would be in a more digitalised future.
In my opinion, people who dismiss libraries, and their importance to a community, are mostly people who either don’t read, who don’t understand the many roles a library plays besides simply lending books because they never really explored their services, or are people who never understood what poverty is like.
I was 9 years old when I stumbled upon an adventure book; in my household, the only books available were an atlas of the world and a small collection of fairytales. Further, it was my mum who told me bedtime stories, tales that she had heard from her own mother which were never written down.
We couldn’t afford books because, with two parents earning the minimum wage, we didn’t have money to spare for anything other than food and basic clothes and shoes.
But I found a book at a cousin’s house, I borrowed it, and I cling to it to this day. It was with that book that my reading adventure began, and had it not been for all the libraries I encountered afterwards, that might have been the only book I’ve read for years. I might have grown tired of it, forgotten it. I might not have become the reader and writer I am today.
Luckily, I found that book. And I found libraries and, to this day, I owe them my gratitude, and admiration. Libraries, like books, save lives.
Libraries as Tools to Improve a Language
Modern libraries are, by definition, as much a place for recreation as they are for study. They’re usually quiet places, with desks and computers, some with a silent room available for those who truly need complete silence to focus.
My local library has a whole floor dedicated to languages, where people come together to improve their language skills.
But even in smaller towns, especially in towns where there is a big community of immigrants, it is common to find a ‘language cafe’, bringing together native speakers and those learning the language. This way, some learn about new cultures and languages, and others improve the language they are trying to learn as a way to better integrate in the country they moved into.
Personally, I find that reading children’s books is the best way to improve a language, because with these books you will learn vocabulary and expressions that you may miss otherwise.
Most libraries have an ‘easy reading’ corner, which is as much dedicated to kids as to those who aren’t yet ready to jump into the literary world with their second, sometimes third (or more) language.
Moreover, if you are learning a new language and you don’t know yet which books you’ll be able to tackle, and those that are still beyond your grasp – blurbs can be deceiving – libraries are a risk-free way to find books: if it’s too advanced for your level, take it back and choose another.
Libraries as a Quiet Place to Focus
Raise your hand if you have trouble working from home, because you get distracted by all the things which surround you. Raise your hand if you can’t work from home because, since it’s home, your brain kinda refuses to work properly and more often than not goes into relax mode, turning into useless mush. *raises both hands*
Not all creative people are in a place where they can afford their own working space. Going to a cafe is an option, but nothing guarantees it will be quiet, and consumption is mandatory. Maybe there are places which allow you to buy a coffee and stay there all morning, but paying for a coffee a few days a week goes a long way in expenses at the end of the month, especially if you are a struggling freelancer.
You are always free to take a place at the library, even if you don’t pay for a library card. Many also offer free wifi and a free, clean toilet. You can take your own drink, and sometimes food. And you can stay there for as long as you like within opening hours, mostly with access to a charger, computers, and, at a small cost, printers.
Almost like an office space, but free.
Libraries as Relief From the Weather
Looking for a heated place during the winter, and a cool place during the summer? Libraries will let you hang around, and enjoy their mild, controlled climate, in the company of a good book.
For some, libraries are the only shelter they have from extreme weather conditions.
Libraries as a Fight for Loneliness
Loneliness affects many of us. As we grow older, it becomes a lot harder to make friends and, with the stigma that still exists regarding going out and doing things on our own – many people simply dislike doing things alone – we tend to stay inside, ending up isolating ourselves even more.
Libraries offer a place to go, a place where it is more common to be alone than in the company of someone, and they have these wonderful creatures called librarians.
Of course, librarians have things to do, but they do not refuse a chat. If you ask them about something, they’ll most likely be open enough to have a conversation about something else.
I once asked a librarian for a book I couldn’t find, and ended up chatting about my move to the city and future plans, and she encouraged, supported, and advised me. It was a lovely conversation – for me, at least – and I ended up leaving the place feeling even more grateful for libraries and their librarians.
Libraries as a Community’s Social Support
I can’t summarise all of the social work libraries do: from helping people find jobs, to literacy programs, many times without the proper support of the government. Sometimes, from the pockets of their own librarians.
Not only are they a place of meeting, they’re a place of hope.
Personally, libraries gave me what my family didn’t have money to buy: stories, a refuge from the real world when it got too much, a way to expand my imagination and learn. More recently, tools to improve a language and find a job I love in a new country. Today, a place to write this article, without distraction. A shelter, a way to fool loneliness, a vision of a future.
Libraries, man. Gotta love ‘em.
If you would like to learn more about libraries, here are a few posts put together by our contributors: