When I was little, the library was one of my favorite places to go. I loved everything about it: its smell, the atmosphere, the ability to check out as many books as I wanted. I loved taking a stack of books to the checkout counter and sliding each book under the scanner, listening to the satisfying two-toned, low beep indicating I had checked it out successfully. I loved getting my first library card when I became old enough and signing my name on the back of it. I remember my neighborhood’s public library had a reading log program, where if you read a certain number of books in a month and turned in the log, you would be eligible to win a prize. I loved the prizes.
Throughout elementary and middle school, I went to the library constantly — both the city’s public library and my school library. I would read every minute of my free time — my favorite series was the A to Z Mysteries until I graduated to the Mysterious Benedict Society. Rarely did I have to renew a book, as I’d devour it up and return to the library to check out the next set of books.
In high school, my concept of a library changed. The library was the place to hang out during study hall, to chat in a loud whisper and get yelled at by a librarian. It was a place to study for tests, or log into a computer to use the Internet for something (we weren’t allowed to use personal laptops at school). It was the place where my student government meetings took place after school on Wednesday afternoons. It was also a shortcut between one side of the school and the other.
However, I never checked out a single book from my high school’s library. I lament the fact that I did not make as much time to read non-required texts throughout high school, and I still neglect to read much in my free time now. I would use the excuse that I was and am too busy with other things, but that would be exactly that: just an excuse. However, part of the reason I didn’t read as much, I think, can be attributed to the way many students’ conception of a library’s purpose changes in high school.
My impression of a library’s purpose has changed once again in college. Now, a library is a place you go to when you really need a quiet space to get work done. A place where you stress out about finals. A place where you go to find print sources for your PWR paper. A place with “special collections” and other sources of old documents, first drafts of stories or otherwise unattainable resources for study. I’m sure I could spend a year exploring all of the resources in Green Library, and that’s only one of the libraries on campus.
This week, for the first time all year, I went to Green to check out a book to read in my free time. As I was searching through the West Stacks for the book I wanted to read, I felt like I was six years old again, thrilled at the simple idea of checking out a book to enjoy for free — excited at the opportunity to read just for the sake of reading. Though I was disappointed that I didn’t get to scan the book out myself, I can’t wait to indulge in this book and go back for more.
If you’re like me and have not checked a book out from the library just for fun in a while, I encourage you to do so. I hope this serves as a reminder that yes, a library is a place to study or to research. However, it is also (and primarily) a place filled to the brim with stories to explore – stories to be taken home and enjoyed each and every day.
Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu.