My library addiction began in my preteen years, when Dad’s three-year faculty tour at Carlisle Barracks Army War College landed my family in quarters across the street from the post library. In search of every single one of Rosamond du Jardin’s scandalously informative (pre-Judy Blume) teen novels, I gradually mastered my terror of the mysterious, arcane proprieties of public libraries.
Happily, my new library habit served me well through two unfamiliar middle schools, two very different high schools, and a nice long stint at the University of Texas at Austin, where I could study every night at a different library.
Over the past 30 years, Frederick County’s estimable C. Burr Artz Public Library and its uniquely congenial and helpful staff have offered me refuge and enlightenment in a familiar, cozy niche.
I will admit that this genteel haven has changed somewhat over the years. Libraries still provide quiet spaces for reading, but librarians no longer wander around hushing everyone. Yes, the place feels a bit noisier, a bit livelier, but it’s also friendlier, more open and inclusive, less snobby, more multicultural. Like a beloved community. Like our diverse American democracy.
What totally works for me is that every one of our county residents can expect a warm welcome, encouragement, and abundant opportunities for growth here. And that is something we can all be proud of.
I wondered aloud about these library trends with two consummate (and charming) professionals, branch manager Beth Heltebridle and communications manager Kim Martinez. Clearly, in order to remain vibrant centers of civic and cultural life, libraries continually adapt to the same challenges of rapid change their customers face.
Kim explained how libraries these days “reach out more, and form strong relationships with many community organizations. We’re no longer all about transactions. We’re about transformations.” Wow. Nice.
Interacting supportively with customers seeking answers to questions is a librarian’s primary job, Beth added. “We can’t possibly know the answers to all questions, so we try to be very transparent, to say we don’t know. But we’re well-prepared to be unprepared. We have strategies and resources to find answers, to work side by side, to find out together.”
Libraries still provide nice spots for quiet pursuits, but they are also much-needed destination spaces—connection points where folks can collaborate, present, discuss, and create together, whether for personal or civic enrichment. Librarians work hard to keep up with fast-changing trends in desired media, Wi-Fi, content, print and digital products, online courses, materials, movies and music, offering ever more equitable and easy access to valued products and services.
Together with the wider community, librarians also support popular programs across a fast-changing range of current interests. To name just an enticing fraction: PTSD awareness, green living, musical adventures, opioid overdose concerns, monarch butterfly way stations, senior care finances, bystander intervention training, crafts for a cause, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, author meet-ups, suicide prevention, yoga, autism spectrum disorders, film screenings, arts showcases, homelessness awareness, home births, amputee peer support ...
Unfortunately, Americans in public spaces are at greater risk from violence these days, whether schools, places of worship, streets and sidewalks, theaters, trains or marketplaces. Though MPs (military police) were ubiquitous on my childhood army posts, none stood guard at our libraries. The courteous officer on duty at C. Burr Artz assured me that he felt useful both in preventing and responding to problems. Customers and staff alike, he said, felt reassured by his presence. Passing on the stairs three hours later, he waved and smiled. “You’re still here!” “Hey, you are too!”
Browsing recently through my favorite shelves (I’m a new-book junkie), I met smiles from friendly librarians Ella, Levi, Carrie Jean and Michael. Later, upstairs, I claimed my favorite chair beneath sculptor Bart Walter’s incomparable owl. I pried off a few of my obsolescent attachments to the way things used to be, and let go of some gray-headed notions about how everything changes too fast and too much.
Then I set an intention to just gratefully … be …here … now … and lost myself in a good book.
Nancy Pace writes from Clover Hill.