Five Times A Library Changed Me Rachael Berkey

Are you surprised that libraries have figured heavily into my mental, emotional and spiritual growth?

If you’re reading this – and you’ve ever read anything I’ve written before – it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I kind of like books. They kind of complete me.

Growing up in the Midwest, the library was so much more than just another place for my parents to take me on a rainy day when they needed to get my hyperactive toddler and small-child-self out of the house before they lost their minds. The library was my home away from home.

It was the only place I was allowed to ride my bike without supervision before I turned ten. A privilege then taken away when I tried to bring home an entire shelf of books in plastic sacks balanced on the handlebars.

I’m not saying that I almost got run over by cars because I over-borrowed and bags broke in the middle of intersections, but I did cause quite the distraction to small town drivers that day.

Anyways! Here are the five times a library changed my life:

That first library card…

I think I got my first actual library card – with my name on it and everything – around kindergarten. I can’t remember the exact date but I timeline it there because I distinctly remember sitting at a short table in the library, next to my mom, gripping what felt like a really long pencil in my tiny hand, and filling out the very official scan-tron like form with my sloppy block letters. I had to ask my mom how to spell our street name.

But man, the feeling of that flimsy piece of plastic (it was mint green and white if you’re curious) with my name typed on it by a real typewriter? I walked out of that library feeling a million feet tall.

Summer Reading Challenges

The library I grew up going to had the most amazing children’s section. I know that now children’s sections are often colorful and welcoming and great but this was the 1980s. Stop for a minute and picture libraries from all the movies you have seen from the 1980s. Yeah. Think about it.

Anyways, our library was pretty much split in two: half for the adults and half for the kids. We had carpeting and comfy chairs and big social areas where kids could sprawl on beanbag chairs and generally cause a ruckus while their parents attempted to read them stories. It was the best. One wall was devoted to huge posters that chronicled the reading challenges our awesome librarian came up with every summer. There were themed stickers. There were prizes. Everything you wanted to inspire rampant competition in local children was represented. You had to figure out your reading list early and you had to borrow those books immediately or there was no way you were going to win.

No, I’m not kidding.

I like to credit my constant one-upping of everyone I talk to about books to this lovely summer memory. Thank you, hometown library for turning me into an obnoxious competitive reader as an adult.

Social Hour at the Library

College is a time for study and learning. It is also the time to test your body’s ability to survive the sleep-deprivation, completely unhealthy eating, and the introduction of alcohol into your social life, because I know that no one drinks before they go to college.

At my college, Sundays were for cramming all of your weekend homework into the shortest number of hours of work at the school’s library. My friends and I would convene at the dining hall shortly before noon, inhale the most unhealthy brunch you can possibly imagine, and trek over to the library to “study.”

The reason I put “study” in quotation marks is because little studying actually happened before I was holed up in my room that evening, blasting music and trying to ignore the world while I slammed through hundreds of pages of reading. The library, where we were supposed to be doing all kinds of work, was actually the time to flirt with the boy you liked, make plans for next weekend, and rehash whatever insanity had gone down the night before.

I know what you’re thinking. SACRILEGE! How dare you desecrate a place of worship so!? The reason it changed my life is because, as I’ve said ad-nauseum, I was a total nerd. These library social hours were some of the first times I didn’t feel like a social leper, but like one of the cool kids. So thanks library. I know you hated us in those years, but you may have turned me into a socially-competent adult.

Grad School: Back to Life. Back to Reality.

While college was a total and complete social classroom, graduate school brought me back to knowing the library the way it was supposed to be known. It was like I had to go through orientation as a student all over again – ironic considering I was a teacher at that point.

That’s right. They put me in charge of young minds. Be afraid.

For the first time since I was a child, the library became a peaceful escape from the loud, social world. (Seriously, why are people so loud?) It was where I could go to get away from the television my roommate always had on, the voices of my fellow teachers on the floor where all our offices were, and the general cacophony (which is a fun word) of the local coffee shop.

I could wander deep into the stacks, find a cubby hole of a desk where I faced a blank wall, and not see a single soul for seven to eight hours while I tried to read, write and research my way to a higher level of intelligence.

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  1. I am a public librarian, a nerd, and a millennial and I want to say thanks for recognizing that libraries are cooler than ever :) I am lucky to have such a great group of colleagues- seriously, librarians are awesome. And so are you! Happy Nat’l Library Week!

  2. “That’s right. They put me in charge of young minds. Be afraid.”

    Love it! I think that’s my mantra as a public librarian :)

    Thanks for bringing attention to the Tumblarians and, of course, National Library Week., and everyone who doesn’t already have a library card should definitely get one. My system just started offering free (and legal!) music downloads — I encourage other readers to take a moment this week to see what cool and new things their library offers.

  3. My local library had to revolutionize their summer reading program when my sister and I moved to town in 1999. Most kids my age (nine) would take home a stack of five books- usually tall thin picture books, and maybe one chapter book. The summer challenges required books that my sister and I had already read, or that were far too easy. I was a very great reader at a young age. I had already finished reading six of the seven Chronicles of Narnia books by age eight, and was a fan of Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson by age seven- and, that same year, began keeping a journal.
    The librarian was interested in our love of reading, and found that we won all the summer reading lists with way too much ease. She wanted to challenge us, so she began adding more and more difficult books to the list, and credits my sister and I for raising the standard of young readers in our town. While most kids carried home five picture books, I would bring home twenty, thick bound books from both the children’s chapter books sections and the adults section, trying to read and devour as much as I possibly could. (And yes, I totally biked back and forth with a basket full as well!!)
    To this day, that library is still like my second home. I, in fact, have a huge canvas bag of books on my bed from that same library. I should get to reading those… ;)

  4. I seriously wish more people like you went to my school. Or maybe I just don’t know where to find them. But, books are my life. And I work in my school library. If I wasn’t already in the nursing program, I’d become a librarian just because the full time workers at Ingram Library are AMAZING. I’m still surprised when other people are surprised that I read (if that made any sense at all). In a time where people wear Steve Urcle glasses just to look cool, no one thinks a social young girl can also really enjoy reading. Thanks for this!

  5. I can walk into any library, take the stairs or the elevator to any floor, wander down any row of stacks, peruse any shelf of books, grab any book off whatever shelf, flip it open it to any page, and read something there that I always wanted to know! And so can you!