I’ve been a fan of libraries for a very long time. In fact, my very first job was as a page in the children’s section of the Altadena Library, way back in high school. (Best. Teenage job. Ever.) And I was offered the job because I was already volunteering, and I started volunteering because I had read myself out of the summer reading program. (As in, I was 13 and had finished the 10 books to win in a week and a half, IIRC. Mom and the head children’s librarian both suggested that perhaps I would enjoy volunteering.) I also spent quite a bit of time at the library in college, albeit mostly hanging out around the magazines, going through the library to classes (notably Marxism, then later Advanced Poetry), and wandering around in the weird dusty attic zone, which is where most of the fiction and poetry happened to live. (I never did quite get the hang of the Library of Congress number system.)
Then there was a long stretch of my life where I rarely went to the library, which started after college and lasted pretty much until we moved to Olympia. The library branches weren’t as convenient as they had been before — the house I grew up in was just a few blocks from the library; I used the campus library even for fiction reading in college, whereas the Tacoma (1996-2001) and Pierce County (2001-2002) library branches were out of my usual paths of travel. And I think I was buying more books then, too. But what I’ve also come to realize is that the internet got me re-engaged with the library.
It started with blogs and online holds. I started reading blogs in 2001, many of which had reviews of interesting books. It was tricky keeping a list of things I wanted to read, then remembering the list when I went to the library, then looking up the titles, etc., etc. But when I discovered online holds, suddenly I could go from “hmmm, interesting book” and in the next browser tab placing the book on hold. Same thing while watching The Daily Show, too; just a few seconds to hold the book being discussed on the show. Of course, often those books had/have HUGE wait lists. But there’s a fun (?!) side effect to that: it becomes a gift to myself in the future. Six months later, I get an email notifying me of a hold that I’d entirely forgotten, and then I’m pleasantly surprised at the book that past me thought future me would enjoy. (Email hold notifications? Also awesome.)
Then once the hold comes in, I head down to the library — and not only do I pick up my hold, but I cruise the new books shelf looking for something interesting. Or I remember that I wanted to find something about [topic X, usually related to home improvement], so I look it up in the catalog and wander through that area. Or I browse for DVDs — I’ve found a lot of oddball PBS documentaries that way.
The next step came courtesy of an online friend: I got to know Emmett O’Connell through OlyBlog. He invited me to volunteer with the Friends of the Olympia Library…initially as a board member helping with the website. (Crazy me, I ended up as Secretary.) So there’s that.
But inadvertently (?!) that involvement led to something entirely different and wonderful — he mentioned a “book club” that’s using a site that I was already using to track my reading. Turns out there’s a Goodreads group called Oly Reads. I’ve been to a couple of get-togethers, participated in a few discussion threads, and now I know some actual local librarians, one of whom I realized I already knew on OlyBlog. Plus my Goodreads friends become a source of more interesting books to reserve and check out from the library. I started reading more urban and YA fantasy, which is a fun break from my usual nonfiction reading, and which helps with my fiction writing. I got better at describing the books I was reading and explaining in more detail why they did or didn’t work for me.
Then I made some additional connections with the Oly Reads gang through Twitter and Facebook, which is a bit like asynchronous “hanging out.” The connections get stronger, more meaningful, and spill over to IRL.
There’s an old Simpsons episode where Bart is in a mini-golf competition and Lisa takes him to the library to find information on improving his game. (OMG card catalog!) As she walks through (to the card catalog!) she says hi to the librarians and the regulars, by name. That was how it was for me at the library when I was a kid — I’d known my high school boss since before I knew how to read — and all of these internet connections have made the library experience that way for me again as an adult.
(I’m thinking this is a Part 1 because the internet-library connection has cropped up in some other odd ways in my life. Plus I have thoughts about how the local library system might use the web to engage even more people. Hopefully it won’t take too long for me to assemble those thoughts into something coherent.)