Libraries are a magical place, full of portals to other worlds. I can't remember the first time my parents took me to visit a library, but I do remember getting my first library card. I had it for about 10 years before it snapped in my back pocket and I had to replace it. As a 5-year-old, getting a library card seemed very grown up. I no longer had to ask my parents to check books out for me - I could do it myself. As soon as I was allowed to bike to the library, I spent long afternoons there selecting piles of books. Over the summer breaks, I read hundreds of books from our local library.
My earliest memory of our local library was when its two branches were located in shopping center stores. They were small, cramped, and full of books. When I was 8, a new main library was built and opened. Volunteers from all over town made a long line from the shopping center, down the road, and into the new library to pass books from one location to another. The new space is open, full of light, and, of course, still full of books. The branch near my parent's home is smaller, a bit more cramped, but has a wonderful space for children and young adults. I had a very book-filled childhood as a result of our wonderful public libraries.
However, once I went to college, I discovered the wonders of the academic library filled not only with fiction, but with analyses, thoughts, and facts that I could devour when I was supposed to be studying for tests or writing papers. The small public library in town was not much use to me, since I lived in the beautiful, old school library. It was an old, renovated brick building with skylights, balconies, comfortable couches for napping between classes, and hidden corners for private studying. After four years, I reluctantly said goodbye and headed for graduate school, where the library was an ugly, florescent lit modernist building that I hated studying in. Luckily the public libraries in that city were wonderful. My local branch was small and inviting. The library system had thousands of books, CDs, and DVDs that I could order and pick up easily. I became a volunteer to read with HeadStart classrooms to share my love of books and the library.
Now I live in Washington, DC. The public library system is alright. It is connected to the surrounding cities, though, which makes it a much better network to find books. However, my branch just reopened it's remodeled building, and I must say, I'm disappointed. It's lovely and light-filled, but there are hardly any books, even on the floor reserved for children. It's nice to have a library as a community space, but it's primary function is as a place for books and media. Without those, it is just another building.
What is your library like?