Wednesday, November 7, 2012

adventures in Brookings: the public library edition.

When I was a kid, I loved spending the day in Brookings with my grandparents. To me, Brookings was a metropolis, and spending an entire day there was heavenly. Whenever my siblings and I were at my grandparents’ house, no destination was off limits. As long as their Buick had gas in the tank, we had the run of the town. McDonald’s for lunch? Of course! Afternoon at the park? Why not! Ice cream at the Dairy Bar? Not a problem!

The only real requirement was that my siblings and I all had to agree on said destinations. Agreeing on a place to eat was easy – if it had a toy in its kiddie meal, we were happy. The hard part was figuring out what to do with the rest of the day. If my brother wanted to go to the pool, my sister wanted to go to the gardens. Were we going to watch Nickelodeon all day, or were we going to go explore the local mall? The possibilities were endless, and to compromise was to show weakness. There was, however, one place upon which we could all agree… one magical place that promised something for everyone, young and old: the Brookings Public Library.
I hear the Hallelujah chorus.
I don’t remember the first time I set foot in the library, but I’m sure it was love at first sight. Where had this place been all my life?! I had exhausted the resources at my school library, and I had no idea that there was this mecca of knowledge within my grasp. My grandma was nice enough to let me use her library card, and I would check out as many books as I could carry.
LeVar Burton would be so proud.
During that particular stage in my life, I was obsessed with the supernatural. I watched the skies for UFOs, and I bemoaned living in an obviously non-haunted house. All the books I checked out dealt with the same kind of thing: Bigfoot sightings, alien abductions, ancient curses, you name it. I was a weird kid. Grandma was less than thrilled to have these bizarre titles showing up on her library card, but she bit her tongue, and I continued to learn about chupacabras and poltergeists and the like. After a while, I switched to reading nothing but Calvin and Hobbes collections, and I’m sure Grandma was relieved.

One of the best things about the library at that time was their computers. We didn’t have a computer at home until I was twelve or so, and I was immensely jealous of my friend Allison’s iMac. We had computers at school, but our time on them was very limited. At the library, all you had to do was sign up on a sheet at the desk, and you’d get to spend some time on the computer. You could also check out a game to play while you were on the computer, which is what I always did: Oregon Trail, baby.
Someone always died of dysentery.
For the longest time, I assumed that library cards were for the older elite, like driver’s licenses and mortgages. Imagine my surprise when Allison informed me she had a library card. All I needed to do was get Mom to sign for me: I was nine, and even I knew that nine-year-olds can’t be trusted. I cajoled Mom into taking me to the library one afternoon when she got done with work, and just like that, I became the proud holder of a library card. I carefully printed my name on the back of the card and held it in my hands: the possibilities were now ENDLESS.

I took my new library card very seriously: as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. I made a calendar of the due dates, and I never let one slide. I took impeccable care of my library books, making sure not to get food on them or tear their pages. The library had deemed me worthy of a card, and I was not about to betray their trust.

I spent so much time in the bookshelves on the library that it took me years to realize that I could check out movies, too! At that time, you could check out a video (yes, a VHS) from the library for two days. I had to plan carefully around Mom’s work schedule, as she was the one who would have to return the movie on time. The Brookings Public Library introduced me to some of the best movies of all time: I checked out The Seventh Seal from the library, as well as The Graduate and Harvey. Sure, there were less-sophisticated choices – I’m sure I brought home Blazing Saddles more than once – but the library allowed me access to all these films that a.) weren’t on any of the channels we had, and b.) I couldn’t afford to buy, or even rent from Mr Movies. What a deal.

As I got older – and gained a driver’s license – the public library was still one of my top Brookings destinations. I began hosting movie nights for my friends, and most of my film selection came from the library. I worked right across the street from the library for a couple of summers during college, and many a lunch hour was spent perusing the library shelves. They even proctored a test for me when I took an online course that summer.

When I moved from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls to start a new job, the Brookings Public Library was invaluable. My job started in September, but my apartment wouldn’t be available until October. I needed a place to stay, and one of my options was my grandmother’s house in Brookings. She had moved to assisted living about a month prior, so her house sat empty. Of course, there was no internet or TV, so I turned to the public library to help get me through those few technology-free weeks. At the library, I could check my email, pick out a movie to occupy the rest of my night, and snag a few books to read over my lunch hour.

This life-long love of the library has led to a seemingly inevitable conclusion: I now work at one. I spend my days surrounded by books and movies, and I now help the public access them like someone once helped me. Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone say that the library system is obsolete: you can get everything on the internet, after all. Maybe they have no use for the library, but perhaps no one introduced them to the magic of the library like my grandparents did for me. The public library provided hours of free entertainment, and I was able to access materials that I never even knew existed. I never would’ve been able to write my college papers without the help of my campus library and the interlibrary loan service. Now that I’m out of college and into the real world, I couldn’t imagine life without the library – and not just because I work in one. I still take home stacks of books, and I always have something to read over my lunch break. I love libraries, and I’m happy to spend time in any one of them… and it all started with summer days at the Brookings Public Library. 

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