Monday, February 21, 2011

The Joy of Open Libraries

By Tony Dirksen

I've never understood why libraries close on the holidays.

Mind you, I know that librarians, like the rest of us, need their days of rest. Especially librarians, who nowadays have to serve as combination information sources, computer experts, study hall monitors, and babysitters.

And I'm sadly aware of how budget squeezes have made a lot of librarians feel like they're in a thankless, unappreciated job. People like those of us at Keen Readers are keenly appreciative of the work they do. Still, most of us aren't nearly vocal enough in expressing our appreciation.

It's BECAUSE of that appreciation I think libraries should stay open on holidays.

Let me take a moment and tell you about my own growing-up reading experiences.

From a very early age, I've had a profound love of reading. In fact, I was able to read books of a somewhat advanced nature even when I was three and four years old, and that strictly by self training. I never told anybody, fearful that if I revealed my ability, something would go horribly wrong. Like the kid afraid of not getting any Christmas presents if he says Santa doesn't exist.

Growing up, books were my companions and my tutors. My loves of baseball and music and film were all taught to me in the stacks of my local library, located just around the block from my parents' home.

While here at Keen Readers we will be addressing many different opportunities and challenges for encouraging reluctant readers, I think there's nothing better for an emerging reader than having a library a short bike ride away around the block. A place where kids can be on their own without parents hovering overhead, where kids can be safe, and where they can find countless ways to explore the world.

I had the good fortune to grow up in such a place.

Most kids, of course, do not have my good fortune. They go to school in the morning, they go to soccer or basketball or little league in the afternoon, some of them may go to music lessons or tai kwan do or dance. And yes, they play video games and watch TV (probably stupid TV) and listen to their iPods way too loud.

Frankly, I might have done the same.

But if a kid is home on a holiday or a Sunday, and is bored with killing off the Covenant in Halo, and has nothing to do, and wants to get away from the house, he or she might, might, go to the public library. And they might discover that there are new worlds and new possibilities beyond anything they've experienced so far.

That's what books can do. Kids just need the time, and the place, where they can do it.

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