At the library

I took a tour of the Mount Vernon, Washington Public Library yesterday. I’ve toured the library before and I’m pretty familiar with the facility. Our son is the director of the library. But I got a new perspective as my guide for this particular tour was our eighteen month old granddaughter. She is getting pretty confident with her walking and likes to stretch her legs with a good walk. We wandered in and out of the stacks in the children’s section and made our way through the lobby into the adult books. We went around some of the stacks in the Spanish language books and headed for the reference desk, where she led me past the quiet study area and back towards the main checkout desk. As we walked I could see lots of changes in the library that have been made in the time our son has been working there. There are new signs, less clutter, new artwork, new furniture, new computer centers, and a few new staff members. There are display cases filled with collections and other temporary displays put there by library patrons.

Most impressive in my tour, however, were the people who were using the library. It was a busy place. There were children playing and learning at the centers set up in the children’s area, adults browsing through the stacks and working at the computers. Youth also clustered in a different computer area and our grandson was trying out new learning tablets that they had added to the library’s collection. There were quite a few people my age and older who were sitting at desks in a traditional reading room. In another area of the library an adult and a child were having a supervised visit, the social worker observing and making notes on a laptop computer. There was a constant flow of people in and out of the library, many carrying book bags.

I was carrying my computer. I have been having some challenges with my journal that have caused it to appear late. They have high speed Internet in their home, but the change in location has required me to upload a large number of files and the website has only been partially published for a few days. The library has blazing-fast internet, much faster than anyplace I have access to in Rapid City and I soon had all of the files uploaded and my issues solved.

I was thinking of all of the differences between the library we were touring yesterday and the community library in the town where I grew up. I remember loving the library when I was a child. It was a rather imposing building with a lot of steps out front before you entered through heavy wooden doors. You could go either downstairs or upstairs, but the books I liked best were upstairs. That was the main reading room and it was dominated by the large librarian’s desk, where the librarian sat and checked out books with a rubber stamp that indicated the due date. She checked cards to make sure that you had returned the books that you had borrowed and other cards to find the books you wanted. I learned to use a card catalogue in that library. There’s no card catalogue in the Mount Vernon Library these days. Public access computers allow quick lookup of books, their check out status and the location of the books in the building. It’s easy to find what you are looking for if you know the author or the title. You can also browse the collection by subject matter and genre.

Clearly the library in Mount Vernon is a public gathering place. Friends were greeting one another warmly in the entryway, staff and patrons knew each other on a first name basis. There was a chatter of conversation throughout the building except in the quiet area off of the reference desk. Unlike the library of my youth, I didn’t see any library staff wearing half reading glasses and no one was going around shushing the patrons. People were asking questions and getting answers.

The library is making use of every possible bit of space. Plans are well underway for the construction of a whole new library/community center building for Mount Vernon. Funds for architecture have been obtained and additional funding for actual construction is being secured. The plan is for a new type of facility, with more flexible spaces, more meeting rooms, and more services for library patrons. There will be more access to computers, more video resources and space for different kinds of community eduction. The role and function of libraries is changing and successful libraries are making all kinds of changes to be prepared to serve future needs of their communities.

There are still plenty of books. And people continue to read printed resources as well as access an ever-growing catalogue of digital resources. There are more and more ways to gain information and resources from the library without a physical trip to the building. One of the functions of librarians in the digital age is maintaining web sites and other sources of information. Still the heart of the library remain shelves with books and it is still a joy for me to walk through the stacks and browse through the titles. The library pays close attention to which books are most popular and is careful to display the most frequently-used resources in places where they can easily be found. I tend to be drawn to more obscure subjects, and those resources also are quite easy to access.

I am biased, of course. I think Mount Vernon has an exceptional librarian and my tour guide yesterday was the best possible guide a grandfather could have for such an adventure. I am also very proud of the work our son is doing to serve his community and to enable others to discover the joys of reading, research, learning, and discovery. I highly recommend regular trips to the library and, if possible, finding a young child to guide you makes the visit even better.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!