04 April 2010

Weekly Geeks: Checking Out Libraries

Weekly Geeks

National Library Week is coming up in the U.S. April 11-17, and April is School Libraries Month (2010 is the 25th anniversary). This got me wondering about the state of libraries around the globe.

What’s your earliest memory of a library? What was it like for you? Were you more likely to hang out in the gym or the library when you were in school?

How’s the health of the library system in your community? How do you support your local library? How often do you check out books from the library vs. buying books? Tell us what your favorite library is like and include some photos if you can.

My earliest memory of a library is, naturally, my primary school library. All I remember doing there is getting teased, so let’s move on while I try to forget I remembered it.

That was followed, academically, by my high school library. Searching for interesting-looking adult novels (not that many), gossiping with friends when I should have been working, dodging my library-fan nemesis ... plenty of memories there. It was also the place where, in Year 10 English, I looked up a single encyclopaedia entry related to the Wars of the Roses - the only piece of non-Australian history I met the whole four years. (If I didn’t read, and watch documentaries, I would probably think that Tudor was an architectural style and everything Georgian came from one of the states of America.)

In years 11 and 12, I practically lived in the library when not in class, and was only disappointed that it didn’t open during recess as well as lunch! Sometimes I did homework, sometimes I read books from the city library system, sometimes I read books off the school’s shelves. I never borrowed one of the latter, and no-one else ever borrowed them either. Whichever one I was halfway through, it was always there when I wanted it. It was in that library that I discovered Margaret Atwood and first read Sense and Sensibility.

And on Friday afternoons in Year 12, when I had a free period next to lunch, I went to the local library and borrowed my books for the week. It wasn’t long before the bus drivers knew me by sight and stopped asking to see my student ID. I still have fond memories of that library - browsing the shelves in lovely peace and quiet, developing my interest in non-fiction, loading up my book bag and wondering how I’d squeeze it into my poky little locker during my Psych class.

Now I have access to the Brisbane library system - which is thriving, not unexpectedly as it is a major city. Sometimes it’s hard to track down a specific book - when there’s a mere handful of copies between 33 branches, or worse, only one. But when I’m aimlessly browsing there are invariably far more books than I could possibly carry - or read. I don’t visit the library all that often, as I always borrow enough for several weeks. In fact, my relatively infrequent library trips supply at least half of my reading material each year. I’d like to use it more often, but that would require a miraculous vaporisation of my non-reading to-do list!

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776