“What’s a Library?” : Patrons Share How Libraries Changed Their Lives

Derek Attig

Staff Writer

Derek works in graduate student career development and is (believe it or not) one of the world's foremost experts on the history of bookmobiles. Follow Derek on Twitter @bookmobility and on Instagram @bookmobility.

Derek Attig

Staff Writer

Derek works in graduate student career development and is (believe it or not) one of the world's foremost experts on the history of bookmobiles. Follow Derek on Twitter @bookmobility and on Instagram @bookmobility.

It’s been a wild few days in the librariosphere. (What? That’s what I’ve decided to call it. Shut up.). Last week, journalist Michael Rosenblum took to the Huffington Post to explain that, while he hasn’t been in a library in years, he’s sure they’re entirely unnecessary. What with the Google and all. I read it, and this was me:

Grumpy Cat Disappointment

Others, though, took their frustrations in more productive direction. Rosenblum’s article prompted a wide-ranging discussion on blogs and Twitter and comment threads—and probably out there in the fleshy real world, too—about what libraries are for and why they matter. Book Riot’s own Rita Meade wrote a beautiful, funny response, as did the Magpie Librarian, Ingrid Henny Abrams. Here’s a snippet from Abrams’s Twittertastic debate with Rosenblum, to give you some of the flavor of the whole fracas:

Magpie Rosenblum Twitter

Hint: go follow @MagpieLibrarian. You’re welcome.

A disproportionate number of voices raised in horror at Rosenblum’s nonsense were, unsurprisingly, librarians’ voices. That’s incredible and important—but it isn’t enough. Patrons, whose access to information resources is threatened by the misinformation spread by commentators like Rosenblum, aren’t heard nearly enough. That’s why Abrams and Natalie Binder got together and decided to start a Tumblr. Libraries Changed My Life (like My Library Story, which launched late last year and is still running) is designed to give patrons a platform to share stories about how libraries have affected them.

It went up on Tuesday, and already the range of posts is amazing. Adventure and job-seeking resources, internet access and comfort—that’s what a library is. I don’t agree with every single thing a patron has written, but that’s the beauty, right? That libraries offer resources to a diverse array of people who probably don’t entirely agree with one another but who all think libraries are an important part of their lives.

I thought to celebrate the site’s launch, I’d pull some highlights from the posts so far. Though, really, I encourage you to go read them all.

From “I Traveled Everywhere When I Read Books”:

I’ve had asthma and severe allergies to everything with fur or pollen since I was 5 years old. Because I was born and raised in Iowa, this meant that I couldn’t go outside and play like the other kids at recess, and it also meant that I couldn’t travel very often … [W]hen I was 5, my mother took me to the Mt Pleasant Library where I read every book in the children’s section in a little less than 3 years. The wonderful librarian…allowed me “behind the rope” into the regular stacks of the library when I was 8 years old, and it was one of the most exciting moments of my life! All these classic authors awaited to share their views of the world with me! I read Travels With Charley and thrilled with Steinbeck and Charley the poodle as they crossed the country in search of good times and good stories. I was not limited by where my body couldn’t go, I could travel anywhere in my mind, and have adventures unbound by time and space in books!

From “Libraries Helped Me Rebuild My Life”:

I don’t know what I’d do if libraries never existed. As a kid, I was a voracious reader, and if not for the free books in libraries, my parents might have gone broke trying to keep me in fresh literature. But as a young adult, when I got sick and lost my job (due to my illness), and had no safety net of family or money, libraries gave me free access to the internet so I could find out about resources, new jobs, ways to take care of myself – and still plenty of free books as entertainment for someone who couldn’t afford TV and was stuck spending time in bed recuperating. I am now a contributing member of society, healthy and have a job, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have access to my local library.

From “Free wifi changed my life!”:

I was visiting my soon-to-be home across the country when my wife landed a new job at a university. I didn’t have connections there, so I knew I’d have to find some part-time work or something before I could apply to graduate school. We had no friends there, no way to use anyone’s home network, and neither of us brought our laptop, so we couldn’t get online at Starbucks. We walked to the public library, where I got a 2-hour guest pass to use their computers, where I managed to fill out three job applications…. We were only in town for a weekend, but I had a job offer before we left.

From “The wonder of libraries and librarians”:

Libraries have always been one of the cornerstones of civilization. You can be rich/poor/black/white/male/female/old/young/etc. and still be afforded the same opportunity to learn. Books can nourish the soul, feed the brain and/or take the reader on a fantastic journey. Whenever I am in the library and see a mom or dad with a child checking out books it gives me a smile. I always try to tell them how incredible it is that they are reading and that I know their parents are proud of them. And our librarians are the incredible stewards of the libraries. I have never met a librarian that couldn’t answer a question or find the answer. Our world would be a much sadder place without libraries.

Do you have a good library story? Consider writing it up for a comment here at Book Riot, and then you could pop over to Libraries Changed My Life to submit it there. We’d love to hear it!


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