When you work in a library, there aren’t many opportunities to stop and watch what’s going on around you. Instead, you’re kept busy with materials to shelve, programs to plan, printer ink to replace, resources to find…and the list continues. (For those who wonder if library staff get to read all day, the answer is definitely not!)
However, last Monday I arrived early at a library for a meeting and sat near the front doors to wait. I pulled my phone out to check email, but I soon set it aside. It turned out the entrance wasn’t a quiet, boring place to be. On the contrary, people came in and out so often that I couldn’t help but start to pay attention. I noticed the parents and grandparents with kids scampering behind them or riding in strollers. The man in the business suit who came in with a coffee and briefcase. The student whose backpack looked too heavy to carry. The twenty-somethings who dropped off their returns and ran back out to their cars. The older couple who strolled in together. So many different people, but each with a story, a reason to be there, a purpose for opening the door.
For the past few months, the Bridges Library System has collected stories about how people use their libraries and why the library is important to them. The stories are as varied as the people themselves are. One little girl in a party dress was visiting the library because it was her birthday. One man said he comes to the library to use the Internet because the service is better than at home. A teen spoke about being accepted at the library as an LGBTQ individual. We met Maureen at the Karl Junginger Memorial Library in Waterloo, where she has taken classes on genealogy, nutrition, and playing the ukulele.
“I was also involved in getting a writer’s workshop up and going here,” she said.
Anne takes her children to storytime at the Jefferson Public Library where “Ms. Melissa is very friendly and really gets to know all of the kids,” she said. “It’s just very personal.”
While we were talking, her daughter took her first steps…right there at the library!
Each story is different, but with one key thing in common: a deep appreciation for the library’s existence, the simple fact that it is there. Libraries continue to make people their priorities, even with budget cuts amidst arguments that libraries are no longer necessary in the 21st century. The stories we’ve collected prove how wrong that argument is. The people go to their libraries to learn. To make friends. To find answers. To feel safe. The story of a library is the story of the people who use it. As long as that continues, libraries will be here, doors open, ready to serve the next person to walk in.
You can see new stories each Saturday morning on our Facebook page. If you’re interested in sharing your story with us, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear what your library means to you.
Jill Fuller is the coordinator of marketing and communications with the Bridges Library System of which the Karl Junginger Memorial Library is a member.