I usually need a few days to chew on the chosen theme for the weekly WordPress photo challenge. I’m a slow thinker. Also, I’m secretly hoping for a lightning-strike of inspiration/opportunity that will save me from having to do any more thinking.
It was a happy coincidence, then, that I had my camera with me while lounging by the magazines at the Idea Exchange (public library). Around here, the days have been persistently and mind-numbingly grey during the past month, so when this brief and glorious moment of sunshine filtered in through the curtains, painting instant patterns across the floor, I grabbed it.
And so… here’s my photo for this week’s theme, Shadow.
Speaking of libraries, I’m compelled to do a bit of cheerleading for our public library.
I’ve always loved the library. I still have my very first library card, cracked and creased with dirt, with my childish “signature” scrawled across the back in blocky, uncertain script.
I’m the kid, and the library’s my candy store. It’s a place of knowledge, of opportunity, of fact and imagination, of wonder and possibility. The collection of books, alone – the delicious feel and smell of bound paper printed with words and pictures related to anything in which you might ever be interested – is better, if I may say so, than candy (except maybe Reese’s Pieces. I adore Reese’s Pieces).
Libraries have a stereotype, though, don’t they? Fussy. Boring. Silent. Echoes from a time when they were purely academic, for serious scholars only. Libraries were for work, for study. No finger-painting allowed.
Things look a bit different now.
Our public library, I’m pleased to say, is a place of creativity, discovery, and community. The children’s area, for example, contains interactive activity centres. Kids are encouraged to build, make music, get messy. Nobody gets shushed in this department. Parents help their kids create and then the grown-ups hang out with one another while the kids go to it on their own.
But the library hasn’t lost those quiet spaces I love. I just have to walk a bit further to find them. The tables and chairs and study carrels are still tucked away in corners, where I can flip the pages of my book in peace. Alone, but not lonely.
Some might argue that the usefulness of the public library has met its end, but I would disagree. These days we’re bombarded with enough information (real and fake) to make us dizzy. Libraries sort, organize, and vet what’s out there. More than ever, we need those who can help us make sense of the chaos, point us to legitimate and relevant resources. Direct us to where we might find the right answers to our questions. We’ll drown without them.
Despite the truth/illusion that technology “connects” us, in some ways we’re even more disconnected from one another than ever. Online contact just can’t replace the skill of real human interaction, of eye contact and facial expression and body language, spoken words and tones and emotions.
I’m an introvert, and I’d love it if you texted me first instead of showing up at my door unannounced. I’m totally uncomfortable and awkward with direct communication sometimes. But even I can recognize that it’s strange and disturbing to interact more with our devices than with one another.
Our library today is working hard to blend the benefits of technology with the cultivation of face-to-face community. The programming at Idea Exchange is so diverse. The stereotypical stuffy librarian in your mind cringes at this amount of energy and noise.
This winter, for example, the new Taco Stand project offers a space for people to share talents and trade services with one another. You can learn how to hem your pants from someone with expertise in sewing. Or learn how to bind a book, create a stop motion animation project, make Dutch pancakes, or levitate. (Just kidding, not that last one. Not yet, anyway). These offerings are initiated and delivered by community members.
Our library also has a gallery, so creativity and the arts are celebrated and encouraged, especially for teens, because the library recognizes they need a safe space to experiment and collaborate. There’s also a community garden. Ukulele jam night. A permanent Maker Lab is in the works, for those who love to tinker with mechanics and technology.
Don’t worry, bibliophiles. The library still cultivates an appreciation of the written word – that hasn’t changed. With early literacy being so influential to success later in life, it’s no surprise the library offers top-notch programs for kids (even babies) to encourage a lifelong love of reading.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only child who found a bit of refuge in the public library. We need safe spaces for our kids, where they’re able to explore and learn and interact, but also where they can retreat and get lost in a book, if that’s what they prefer.
The library is a hub for knowledge, as always, but it has also grown to be a centre for culture and community. There are so many reasons to support our libraries – at a time when I think we need them most.
By the way, if you aren’t in the mood to make Dutch pancakes or play the ukulele, you can still visit the library to relax with a magazine or stare off into space. The sunlight makes a very striking pattern on the library floor.