I did not go to kindergarten. I’m kind of perversely proud of that, as if I missed a vital starting point and yet was able to go on to relative educational success.
I don’t remember my mother’s reasoning at the time, but I was told I was going to “library school,” which was in fact storytime at the public library once a week, followed by a trip to Kresge’s for an ice cream sundae.
Is it any wonder that real school always fell short of my expectations?
I never managed to recapture that wondrous sense of unfettered possibility, those shared moments of art and literary bliss, followed by the opportunity to take home armloads of books for later – at no cost – and then, dessert! Not in school, anyway.
That was back in South Bend, Indiana, but wherever I have lived, I have sought out the haven of a library. As a kid, it was all about the books. But as my world expanded, so did my use for the library.
My eighth-grade teacher would check out a different piece of art to hang in the classroom every month, and expose us to record albums that blew our little minds (such as the Ramayana Monkey Chants), and show us silent films and other movies we would never see on TV in the Seventies. We may have been a working-class school, but the library provided us with so many resources that I never felt underprivileged.
On the contrary, the access to information that I was granted by the library made me feel powerful. I recently told someone that I felt public libraries were essential to democracy, and realized how deeply I believed that, and how personally I had experienced that.
In high school, I experimented with cuisines that had not yet made their way to the Midwest, courtesy of the library’s cookbook selection. I rented records and cassette tapes of bands and musicians that did not get radio play. I learned new crafts, discovered new authors, and in a time before coffeehouses, had a place to meet friends. I read all the cool magazines. I reluctantly learned to move on from the card catalog to their new computer-based system.
On breaks from college it was all about pretentious foreign novels, art books, and philosophy. I found books to help me study for the GRE. After graduate school, when I started teaching, I channeled my eighth-grade teacher and spent many hours finding music and movies to use in the classroom. Before I left for the Peace Corps in Poland, I found CDs to help me learn Polish and books to help me understand Poland’s history and culture. I went with my mom to a book club there, and went to author readings, art shows, and performances.
The first thing that struck me about the Chapel Hill Public Library when I moved here was the sheer beauty of its park-like setting. Every window affords a leafy vista. But there’s so much more there.
As a tutor in English as a Second Language, I’m able to take advantage of the library’s study rooms as a neutral meeting place. I find magazines that I know will be of interest to my students, so they can work on the vocabulary that is most important to them. I show them how to use the library’s digital resources to access all kinds of interactive ways to improve their English.
I’ve looked for a job with the help of the library’s free wi-fi, added to my own book collection with their amazing sales, and participated in the Banned Books trading card contest that they have every fall. I follow them on Facebook and am rewarded with sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking posts on a regular basis. Currently, I’m refining my submission for the Community Haiku Project they’re sponsoring.
As a nanny, I have had the privilege of taking my young charges to “library school.” They’ll probably go to kindergarten when the time comes. But if they don’t, they’ll do OK. With libraries, there is always hope.
You can reach Amy Trojanowski at firstname.lastname@example.org
Need a library card?
Orange County and town of Chapel Hill residents may obtain a library card without charge. (The Chapel Hill Public Library is supported by Chapel Hill and Orange County taxes.) Application must be made in person and proof of identity and current address is required.
Acceptable forms of identification include:
▪ Driver’s License
▪ Social Security Card
▪ Student ID
▪ Other Government Issued ID
Acceptable forms of proof of address include:
▪ Current driver’s license
▪ Mail postmarked within the last month with address.
▪ Lease or rental agreement.