“Having a library where you can go every day is the bright spot of middle school!” said the daughter of fellow author and member of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C., Laura Gehl. Libraries are bright spots all around the world, especially in challenging times when librarians and the spaces they manage are called on to do so much more than check out books. Librarians in the U.S. have been passing out masks and COVID testing kits and reorienting programming to Zoom. In Ukraine, the president of the Ukrainian Library Association echoed the cries of protesters in Egypt in 2011, “Libraries are places of safety and freedom…Libraries are power places where people find themselves.”
Libraries continue to be powerful places in America too. The Friends of Libraries Montgomery County (FOLMC - Maryland) has two student members who reflected on their earliest memories of libraries.
Corinne Nicholls (Senior Student Representative)
My earliest full memory I have of the library was the day I got my first library card. I remember feeling so grown up, and like I had just made the single most important achievement of my life (which the librarian at the Wheaton Library assured me it was). Since I no longer had to check out books with my Mom, I was allowed to check out as many as I wanted, so I originally grabbed 10ish books. After some convincing from the librarian, I cut down to about half of that, but I was still so excited that I had a bag full of library books and a cooler looking library card than my Mom’s. I can attribute my desire to become a librarian in my adult years to my wonderful childhood memories of the library. The library was always a magical experience for me, and after that day, I felt like I had been fully initiated as a member of the coolest place on the planet.
Boshra Nouraie (Junior Student Representative)
My earliest visits to libraries formed some of my happiest and most significant memories. In elementary school, I was always most excited for Media Center days. I would feel my excitement building walking into my school's library, and I would sit at the edge of my seat waiting for the lesson to finish so I could go browse the aisles and pick up a new book. In my later elementary school years, I formed a special bond with a few of my classmates by reading the series The Mother-Daughter Book Club, by Heather Vogel Frederick. Some of my favorite conversations were those I had about books, and the library inspired me to join my school’s book club and start writing as an outlet that, even until this day, supports my mental and emotional well-being. My mom would take me to the public library during the summer early and let me explore a world outside of my home - world that would uplift me in my toughest times, and I can never thank the library enough for that.
And the value of libraries today – the reason they are worth our tax money?
I believe libraries are a worthwhile expense because by funding libraries we are supporting mental health resources, safe havens, and fostering educational opportunities. A library is more than just a place to check out books, a library is a place of growth for the members of our community from the minute they walk in, to the minute they walk out. Within books, members of our community can build understanding and find themselves, and experience a sense of hope that will brighten all of our futures. Without the library, I would not know how to cope with obstacles in my life, and I would not know how to help others in the capacity that I now do. Literature and the shared setting of a library inspires connection, connection that we, as a community, need now more than ever. Libraries help us empathize, empower, and educate. Joy and unity in a community can flourish, with the prosperity of our public libraries.
I still consider libraries to be the coolest places on the planet, but as I’ve gotten older and more involved in the library community, I’ve realized just how integral they are to our communities. As a high school student, and upcoming college freshman, I can not imagine what my schooling would look like without the library. Students and youth are offered so many resources at the library, including community events, free and accessible WiFi, a quiet spot to study, and physical/electronic learning material. Outside of the world of academia, the library is a community center that allows everyone to come together and enjoy the diverse range of experiences, talents, and knowledge present in our area. Of course, I have to mention the mountains of books, audiobooks, CDs, and more offered at libraries because no library would be complete without them! We live in a time dominated by the exchange of information, so having a physical building that provides the opportunity to learn, to read, and to have fun while doing all of those things is a big blessing.
My favorite thing about libraries is that they are a safe space for so many. Anyone can walk into a library, be greeted by the smiling face or the friendly eyes of a librarian and know they are in an open and safe place and feel an incredible sense of belonging. The world and our communities are changing fast, but libraries are changing right along with it in the best ways. Especially seeing how they remained safe havens and just as resourceful through a global pandemic, I don’t see how our communities would be complete without them! They truly are wonderful and ready to offer magical experiences to anyone who takes advantage of them.
Add your own favorite library stories in the comments below.
Note: Rising Juniors in Montgomery County Public Schools are eligible to become student representatives of FOLMC. Applications here.
Writing resources for young people here.
Illustrator Susan L. Roth and I will be participating in an Imagination Celebration hands-on event for the very smallest readers and pre-readers at the Orleans Branch of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, April 14 2pm. Children will make paper dolls representing who you are now or who you want to be when you grow up. Sign up here.