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what are libraries for?

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Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board member and Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College.

Many, many things.

This past week, we celebrated the National Friends of Libraries Week and these wonderful folks shared their memories of libraries and what the library means to them.  Thanks to Tara, Darby, Sandra, Susan, Jocelyn, Sharon, Kristine, Ale, Liz, Annette, Trudie, Kaitlyn, and Lorraine for sharing your memories with all of us. In these stories, we see that the library is a place that offered solace, growth, independence, and of course knowledge for many.

My parents, immigrants from Korea, also found comfort at the Central Library in Columbia because they could borrow Korean books there. For them, borrowing these books allowed them to remember and connect with their homeland. For me, it was a place where I could continue my journey to becoming proficient in English. I devoured the Nancy Drew books, the Hardy Boys books, The Babysitters’ Club, and the Boxcar Children.  I also borrowed many cassette tapes and later CDs of Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Sheena Easton, and the New Kids on the Block. We borrowed movies.  The library granted access to these materials – books, CDs, and movies – that were otherwise not available to me.

But it’s not just these things that the library gives us.  It’s also the space it provides.  When the time came for me to study for the SATs, I went to the Central Library to study. When I needed a computer, I went to the library.  Many years later, when I had to study for the GREs, I went there to study in one of the study carrels on the second floor of the Central Library. Now, I take my own children there to borrow books, trying to hunt down the elusive and long-awaited copy of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and to sign up for summer reading programs. When we are about to go on a long road trip, we go there to borrow DVDs.

The library may have changed over the years to keep up with the changing times, especially with the changes in technology. Still, the library continues to provide space and access that many of us need and crave.

Read on to see what the library has meant for so many of us.


I have vivid memories of my small hometown library in the 1970s and can recall every section, specific places where favorite books lived, the smells of leather and hot mimeographed paper, even the words on the tiny bathroom wall.

– Tara

My love of books was born when I was a child, and to me, going into a library conjures up memories of me, twelve years old, digging through bookshelves for something new to feed my imagination. I remember the somehow comforting strain of trying to get my arms around a large stack of books, and the feeling of resting my chin on top of the stack as I hauled it to the front desk. Even today as a college student, I feel peaceful in a library, and standing between shelves, surrounded by old books, is something wonderful to me.

– Darby J.

In fifth grade summer, shortly after we immigrated to the States in the early 90s, my parents decided this summer break thing, unheard of in South Korea, was ridiculous. They dropped my younger sister and me off at the White Oak library in the morning and picked us up close to dinner time every single working days of the week for a while (around the third day or so, they decided we should have lunch and packed us something to eat). We did EVERYTHING in that children’s section in the library from eating, napping, getting to know the two very lazy hamsters we saw for the first time in our life, learning checkers from strangers to list a few. We didn’t speak or read much English at all, so when we discovered comic books, it was as if we had uncovered hidden treasures. There were two kinds, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. Naturally, we went with shorter plots, bigger letters, and easier expressions to guess (his eyes said it all): Garfield. I hadn’t realized then, but I was living a dream. As an English professor now, how I wish I could just roll around on the library floor without a care, rummaging through shelves after shelves and chatting away with my sister as if we were the only two in the world.

– Sandra Lee

I would visit our community public library everyday because it was the midpoint between my junior high school and my sister’s elementary school. We spent hours reading in the quiet corners of the library! I believe that my love for reading was fostered by my parents and the wonderful librarians.

– Susan Y. Williams

There was this feeling of a borderland for me as a young teenager in the library. I was able to be older, to be smarter somehow among the stacks. A Stephen King READ poster, a microfiche machine, a wide staircase, and low windows brushed with leaves. In the library, I was studious in wooden study carols, while the names of the Grateful Dead danced in my sight line, etched in pen years ago. In the library, I did my research with the help of those titans of knowledge behind the tall desks, their faces blooming with joy at my questions. In the library, I saw homeless men sit and read the newspapers with dignity. In the library, I saw my life stretch out before me, echoed over time, echoed under the hanging lights, layers of books and memories forever in the same borderlands of my old heart today.

– Jocelyn Hieatzman

1. My childhood library was a big stone building with stone lions guarding the front door. It made the institution impressive and important . As a child, we couldn’t borrow “adult” books, and it seemed like they must hold some secret knowledge. 2. The bookmobile came to our neighborhood every Monday afternoon. We were allowed to take 7 books, and it was air-conditioned. It was the 1960’s.

– Sharon O’Neill

I love the library. It’s a quiet place to work or explore new authors! I love the creativity with displays.

– Kristine

I moved to the United States when I was 13 years old. In Mexico libraries were not an everyday thing for me. If we went, they were usually surrounded by homeless people or too far from our home. However, once I moved to the U.S, libraries became my escape from a place I did not understand. At first I hated the library. Mostly because of my limited English and low reading level. I felt embarrassed when my teacher told me all I could read were elementary level books. It wasn’t until a lunch monitor saw me with one these books, The Ugly Duckling, that I learned the value of reading. She told me that the fastest and best way to improve my pronunciation and understanding was by reading out-loud to myself. After that day, I visited the public library and read as much as I could. I read through all the R.L Stine, Goosebumps, romances, mysteries, and many others until I was finally able to challenge myself and read the Harry Potter series. Thanks to the welcoming environment of my public and school libraries, I went from reading picture books at the age of 13 to 1000 pg Stephen King books by the time I was 16.

– Ale M.

I grew up in Ellicott City, MD, so I went to the (old) Miller Branch library when I was young quite often. My first memories are borrowing toys from the kids’ section, which was directly to your right when you entered the library. My mom loved that she could borrow toys for my sister and me since kids can be so fickle; I’m sure my family saved a lot of money by not having to buy us as many toys! In elementary school, I remember creating my own fantasy story about the small enclosed garden area directly across from the circulation desk (although I don’t remember what the story was now). In middle school, R.L. Stine novels engrossed me. I remember spending many weekends searching through the R.L. Stine books directly to the left when you entered the library, at the back. I also bought some of his books from the area to the left of the circulation desk at something like 25 or 50 cents per book. I loved that I had enough money to buy my own books! I didn’t care that they had clearly been read many times before. Finally, I remember doing a couple of research projects at Miller Branch and Central Branch. Unfortunately, I moved to another state before high school started and didn’t have such a fabulous library nearby anymore. I’m so glad to be back in Howard County with a renovated Miller Branch and an almost-ready renovated Elkridge branch within walking distance of my new house!

– Liz Campbell

Image result for HOWARD COUNTY LIBRARY MILLER BRANCH OLD

the old Miller Branch library in Ellicott City, MD

Every Saturday when I was growing up, my dad and I would drop my mother off at the grocery store and walk over to the Randallstown Branch of BCPL which was in the same parking lot. While she shopped, my father and I would return the books we signed out the week before and take out new ones. We would walk back to the store and find my mom in one of the aisles and help her finish up. This is one of the fondest memories of my childhood and I remember many wonderful chats with my dad before curling up in an easy chair to read my newest treasures!

– Annette Kuperman

When I was a little girl, I lived in a small blue collar town just north (on the mainland) of Galveston, Texas. Hitchcock had a grocery store, a small bank, a doughnut shop, Mr. Charburger, a drug store and some other small local businesses! We also had a book mobile every three weeks or so, that parked in the bank’s parking lot. A large trailer with books, books and more books! I didn’t even know “libraries” existed, until one day Mother took all of us four little girls to Galveston Island to THE library. It was beautiful; with what I remember to be massive, dark-stained, ornate rails leading up the many steps to the magnificent entryway of the building. And books! Who knew there were that many books in the world? What pure, giddy joy I felt that day.

– Trudie Myers

When I was in late elementary school, I loved going to the Central Library with my mom. I loved the weird shape of the building and the nooks and crannies of the library. The library was also the first space I was allowed to be “alone” in a public space. I would look for my books while my mom would look for hers. We would meet at the check out line, her with her reasonable amount of books and me struggling to balance a stack that piled to my nose.

– Kaitlyn Curtis

I remember the Book Mobile routinely coming through our military Navy Housing in Bremerton, WA when I was in 6th grade. My two younger brothers and I so looked forward to the Book Mobile! It was such a different experience to walk-in to a library on wheels. It was a pleasurable experience I will not forget.

– Lorraine

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