Using the Public Library

The new Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley & Bessie Knox Branch of the San Diego Public Library opened to the public on Saturday, January 26, 2019

Here is my local public library, which opened to great fanfare last Saturday in a widely publicized ceremony led by our mayor, state assemblyman, and representative in Congress. A carefully orchestrated “Book Pass” involved a large crowd of enthusiastic library patrons and friends handing hundreds of books from the old library down the street along a human chain into the shelves of the brand new branch. More than 2,000 people showed up to the grand opening. The building’s architecture features Craftsman-style design and a Tolkien theme in the children’s section. The new branch was years in the making and generated much excitement throughout the community.

I was unable to attend the opening ceremony, but I plan to be a frequent visitor and donor to its collection of books and videos. I did the same with the local public library wherever I lived: Newton, Kansas in the early 1990s, Sacramento in the mid-90s, Bakersfield in the late 90s and early 2000s, and the Orange County Public Library branch in Irvine during my thirteen years there. Whenever my book and video collections started to spill beyond the confines of my home library, I loaded the back of my Jeep and made a trip to the local public branch. I made a large contribution to the history section of the North Park branch here in San Diego during my move to Mission Hills last month.

A community can never have too many libraries. Freedom of access to information is the keystone of a healthy democracy. Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection formed the basis for the Library of Congress, and wealthy industrialists Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan made sure to endow libraries as part of their philanthropic legacy to the nation. Books have become somewhat anachronistic in a digital age of e-reader devices, but there is still something memorable about holding a bound volume in your hands and turning its pages with your fingers.

The same can be said for visiting the public library. I worked as a page at several branches of the Long Beach Public Library during my junior year of high school. I remember well the tranquility of the redwood-surrounded McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz, and the grandeur of the Boston Public Library during my time as a graduate student. The New York Public Library is an architectural masterpiece. The breathtaking San Diego Central Library which opened in 2013 took three years to build and occupies almost 500,000 square feet downtown. Its nine floors feature a three-story domed reading room, a large auditorium, gardens and cafes, and a charter high school.

The best thing about all these places is that they are free and accessible to the public. You can go there whenever you want during operating hours and use whatever resources are available there. All you need is time, interest, and your library card. Most modern libraries have extensive digital catalogues and collections as well as computers, well-lit study carrels, and large video and periodical sections. Many have audio-visual stations where music or film may be enjoyed. Staff is available to answer questions and provide guidance and advice. Books and other materials can be reserved for future use. The library shop sells used books for low prices and other reading-related merchandise.

Most county library systems let you order materials from any of the branches within that system. This allows you to take advantage of the full resources of your public library for whatever purpose you need. And most importantly, it feels good to be there. The library is generally a quiet, comfortable place where you can read or meditate or catch up on homework and other assignments. If home is too distracting an environment in which to read or study, head over to your local branch.

I often took my classes to the school library during my twenty years as a classroom teacher. We worked on class projects such as Socratic seminars, stock market portfolios, PowerPoint presentations, and assigned industry profiles. My favorite expression during that time was “Reading is the key to succeeding.” I drew a poster with that slogan in Old English script and hung it on my wall for eighteen years. The public library is a great place to use that key. It will open the door to a bright future for you.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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