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I Haven’t Been to the Library in Almost a Year: A Story of Shame

Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

I recently realized that I have not checked out a book from the library in close to a year.

This is unacceptable. It’s more than unacceptable. It’s downright hide-in-my-closet-and-maybe-never-come-out-again-(well-okay-sometimes-come-out-to-use-the-bathroom-but-besides-that-never-again) embarrassing.

You guys, I used to be the POSTER CHILD of library patrons. In high school, I was one of the only kids who checked out books for non-academic usage. The librarians would ask me “What classes are Madame Bovary and Age of Innocence  for?” I would mutter something about “The class of my brain” as I slid my student ID across the counter. In college, I would sit in the stacks and work, almost always on the floor, rarely, if ever, on couches and chairs. I thought I looked like I was poetry in motion sitting on the floor, my legs pretzeled up, laptop on knees, rapidly typing as the battery life wound down. I took the university shuttle back to my apartment many evenings with a Jenga-block stack of thick Russian novels and thin volumes of Irish poetry sitting on my knees. In the years following college, I  lived within walking or three-minutes-of-driving-distance from a library. During those years, I loved knowing that I could place a hold on almost every backlist book I could think of and expect it in my hands within a week. I loved getting  email notifications that my books had arrived at my local branch, and I loved those moments standing at the front desk waiting for the librarian to come around from the back, my books in hand. It was like Christmas every week and a half. I didn’t love being number three hundred on the hold list for that sexy new literary fiction book that just came out. Especially when there were only twelve copies in the system. Whenever I read or wrote or messed around on the internet or just sat on a couch, mind wandering in one of the Los Angeles public libraries, I loved feeling like I was right in the middle of the human stew that was my major metropolitan area. Parents running after toddlers, the elderly reading periodicals in arm chairs, high school kids browsing YA: entire generations I would have little to no interaction with were it not for this public institution. Being a part of my library expanded the perimeters of my life. I was grateful every time I walked through the sliding doors.

So what happened? Logistics happened. I became a book blogger, and galleys entered my life in a major way. Being a book blogger and being in the middle of the publishing industry made me extra-hungry for new releases, and I just didn’t feel like being number three hundred on that hold list. I had always been friends with my independent bookstores. Now I was cheating on my local libraries with  indies every chance I got. I also moved out of Los Angeles proper, and even though it’s only a fifteen minute drive, I just haven’t found (honestly, made) the time for that forty-five-minute-to-hour-long trip in my week to week life. Now the weeks have piled up into almost a year, and the library has gone from being one of my best friends to a semi-stranger.

I used to quietly judge people who did not make use of their libraries and now I’ve become the person. The horror, the horror! Of course, all hope is not lost. The best thing about realizing a mistake is the opportunity to rectify. I went on the LAPL website today, did a couple quick searches, and found so many books I’ve been wanting to read, ready to be sent to my fifteen-minutes-away library at the click of a hold button. So many of the 2012 Tournament of Books contenders. Lauren Groff’s collection of short stories Delicate Edible Birds. Adrienne Rich’s 1978 poetry collection Dream of a Common Language. Flann O’Brien’s collected Irish crime fiction. The list goes on.

It’s going to be a little awkward when I go to the library next week to pick up my books, the way it’s always awkward when you finally get coffee with that dear old friend you somehow haven’t seen in four months, or eight, or a year, or more. It’ll only be awkward for a minute or two. Then it’ll be just like old times, like this embarrassment of a year-long absence never happened. That’s the thing about dear old friends. Whether they be human beings or public institutions of learning, they’re always glad to see you again.