Going Back

Public Libraries

This morning I tweeted about my visit to the Burton Barr Library. For those of you not in Phoenix, this is the main branch of the Phoenix Public Library, and a very impressive edifice. The tweet, like many tweets, was not particularly important, nor was it particularly clever, but I felt like I had to say something about the fact that I was in a public library. Not to work, not to use the wifi, not to run a hurried after-work errand. I was there just because I had an hour to kill downtown.

Having a free hour in the middle of the day was strange to begin with: this is the first time ever I have not been a student with a part-time job or a librarian working full-time. I have only had a week to adjust to this new state of affairs, and it still feels like I am on some kind of strange vacation.

My high school/college jobs were all at a public library, with the result that I spent nearly 10 years in a public library. When I left, I didn’t quite make the transition from dedicated student worker to dedicated library user, so all the associations I have with public libraries are those of an employee: hands black from handling dirty books, keeping an eye out for trespassed users while working in out-of-the way corners late at night, small children screaming blue murder for no reason in particular, and once, finding a used diaper on a shelf.

Remembering all that, I was really tempted to go to Giant Coffee and sit in their very clean, controlled environment. Then I remembered that I am on a budget (yay marginal employment :/), and technically, I have already paid for the privilege of sitting at Burton Barr for as long as I want to stay. (As many a disgruntled user reminded me when I worked in a public library, public libraries are funded by taxpayer dollars. I’m really glad I never had a patron who knew about IMLS grants, because I’m sure I would have received an angry lecture on those taxpayer dollars too.)

So I climbed to the top floor, found the knitting section, and putzed around. They have the best collection of knitting books I’ve ever seen, and in spite of the open layout of the floor, it was really quiet. Library books are grimy: that’s simply a fact of life, but I found a nice chair to read in, and for the first time in years, had a really nice, relaxed time at a public library.

What about you? When did you last visit a public library, and did the experience make you eager to return?