By Eric Braun
A few months ago I was researching sports and recreation information for a book I was writing for boys. Why does a knuckleball dance? What can you do to increase your sprinting speed? How do you organize a bike rodeo?
I needed plenty of awesome facts and fun activities to fill my book. Some of the information was easy to find, but others—not so much. I decided to ask a librarian for help. I pulled up the website for my county library, which I had bookmarked in my browser, clicked the button labeled “Ask Us,” and typed a question into the chat window. Within moments, searching the library’s books, databases, periodicals, AV materials, and even resources on the Web outside the library’s domain, a real human being helped me find the resources I needed.
“Anything else?” she asked.
Well, wow. I mean, how great is the library? How awesome are librarians?
A few weeks later I was having trouble finding a particular book about the folk hero Pecos Bill. Turns out there was a good reason for that. The librarian in my little “Ask Us” box told me there was only one copy in the entire United States—at the University of Texas library in Austin.
A week later, I got an email with the text scanned into a PDF. No charge, no sweat.
Again: How great is the library?
Even when I was a kid, it seemed like you could find anything at the library. The first book I truly fell in love with was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. About a kid who wants to be a writer, it’s still among my favorites. I still remember the day I went to the card catalog and found Fitzhugh’s name and discovered she had other books, too. I’d had no idea. I made a beeline for that section and checked them out.
Many of us have our own gauzy-sweet memory of getting our first public library card. Mine was thin manila cardboard that had my name, address, and phone number typed—with a typewriter—directly onto it. It was not even laminated. I kept it in my wallet so I’d always have it in case I found myself near the library and could stop in. (I also started carrying my wallet.)
September is Library Card Sign-Up Month. If you don’t have a library card, now is the time to change that sad fact. Guaranteed to improve your life, or your money back. If someone in your life doesn’t have one, help that person out by accompanying him or her to the library to get a card. Make it a date. If you have kids, make it a playdate!
The cards are plastic now, with a magnetic strip. Not quite as romantic, but, you know, time marches on. The library is still an impressive place where awesome things happen. Now more than ever.
Eric Braun is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis. If you organize a bike rodeo, he would totally go. Learn more at heyericbraun.com.
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