If you know me, you probably know that I’m very passionate about public libraries.
But you might not know how this all started.
I grew up going first to the local libraries where we lived in Massachusetts, and then to Palm Beach County’s libraries when we moved back to Florida when I was 9.
Some of my earliest memories involve story time at the library in Maynard, Massachusetts. I recall sitting rapt as Ms. Elizabeth – town librarian Elizabeth Drake – read to us, the dust jacket of the picture book in her hands crinkling. That remains one of my favorite sounds.
In 1991, when I was 5 years old, Massachusetts struggled to get its financial footing following the recession that hit the U.S. the previous year. Local governments and the state faced massive budget cuts.
In Maynard, town officials made a difficult call: They put funding the library up for a vote. If the vote failed, the library would close.
My mom told my sister and me about this. I remember her trying to explain in detail what a Proposition 2 1/2 override was, and realizing that it meant the library would close. I knew I had to do something. I wondered what we would do without Ms. Elizabeth’s story times.
I had a My Little Pony bank that I named Sarah, and I had stuffed it with coins in hopes of buying a new Barbie.
Instead, I took Sarah to my mom and told her that I wanted to give it to Ms. Elizabeth. Maybe the money in Sarah could save the library. If the library needed money to stay open, maybe my money could help.
Mom only asked once if I was certain about my decision. When I said yes, she drove us to the library and we dropped off Sarah with a note: This is for the library. Please don’t close.
After finding Sarah, Ms. Elizabeth contacted the local newspaper, which wrote about my donation. A donation that amounted to about $12, but a donation nonetheless.
I was interviewed by reporter Lisa Coleman, who also took a photo of me with Sarah, handing her to Ms. Elizabeth. In the photo, I’m smiling like I have any idea what’s going on. I remember that as the shutter clicked, I wondered if I would get Sarah back after they emptied her. My mom brushed my hair into a half up-half down style and I had bangs, because a few months before I had cut off most of the hair from the front of my head. I had to wear headbands for months to hold back the chopped remains.
Somewhere in my house is that section of the newspaper. I tried in vain to find it both in my house and on Newspapers.com. (The photo above is an old one I recently found on my phone.) I’m sure it’s one of the many small local newspapers that was lost over the past two decades as print journalism budgets were slashed so quickly that archivists stood no chance to keep up with the pace of cuts.
When the article was printed, children from around Maynard flooded the library with piggy banks. The town was moved – and the library stayed open. Maynard Public Library even moved to a larger home in 2006.
When I was 5 years old, I helped to save my town’s library.
It’s weird to say that, but it’s true.
It also probably explains a lot about who I am and what I love. When I’m passionate about something, just try to stop me.
So, when I see articles about book bans and people calling for libraries to be defunded, my stomach flips.
I look at my son, who is about to turn 5, and I think about what he would miss out on in a world without libraries. I think about what he would do if he heard that our library branch could close. Would he collect quarters to help? Would he tell his friends to do the same?
Libraries are essential to our communities. They open doors to worlds and cultures and life experiences to which we may otherwise never have access.
I think about all of the amazing books that I’ve borrowed from libraries. About the summer I walked back and forth between our house on a hill and the library in Marlborough, Massachusetts, so I could renew my loan on “The Diary of Anne Frank” over and over and over. About the first time I was told by a librarian that I couldn’t borrow so many books by one author, as my arms were full with every book I could grab in the Berenstain Bears series.
Then I think about my son, doing a happy dance as I stand with a librarian in the children’s nonfiction section because we are looking for books about elevators.
Why would we deprive our children of such joy? Of the magic of discovery and exploration? Of the thrill of opening a book and being hooked by the first line?
Even now, there are books that capture that magic for me. When I read 122 books in 2016, most of those were borrowed from the library. (You can click here to see the list of books I read that year. Yes, I tracked them on a spreadsheet, because I’m a giant nerd.)
So let’s take a note from 5-year-old Kristina, shall we?
We need books. Let’s not close those doors.
Free resources available from the Palm Beach County Library System
- Free access to ebooks and audiobooks.
- Free access to TV shows, movies and music albums.
- Free access to ABCmouse.com, a great at-home learning tool for children.
- In-person and virtual classes on a number of topics, including English and Spanish, technology and more.
- Meeting rooms available to book for free.
- Help applying for and renewing passports.
- The free Book Club in a Bag program.
- The Books-By-Mail service, which is available to library card holders who can’t visit a branch because of a physical disability, long-term illness or lack of transportation.
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