02 June 2011

Libraries Are Our Community Treasures

photo courtesy of shelleysdavies.com

Note: The following article was written for Women's Day Magazine, who was looking for stories about why libraries are important to our communities. It seems fitting that I now post this given that our Oakland libraries are at risk of closing, leaving our communities at a loss.

One day, while hunting for treasure, I discovered an old journal neatly tucked away on a bookshelf. I honestly enjoy treasure hunting; I’m constantly finding little jewels, nuggets of sweet memories. I began flipping through the pages of this recent discovery, and found that on March 11, 1982, I’d written an entry about a trip to the Main Library in downtown Oakland, CA. It was on that day that I rediscovered the library. I was 24-years old; it was like I’d found lost fortune, something misplaced or forgotten, but  brings a happy surprise once unearthed. I’d written about a day in my life, while in the throes of cleansing and purging my thoughts, I stumble into the free, public library, a place to rest my mind and anxieties. Go figure.

On March 11, 1982, I was having a bad day and needed a spirit boost. It was on a Thursday afternoon; I’d made a note about the weather—“A dreary day with lots of rain and clouds.” I had attended a mid-afternoon appointment, and with some time to spare before picking up my son from school, I considered stopping by the library to “sit there and collect my thoughts.” Once I arrive, I head to the Music and Literature section of the main branch. As if for the first time, I observe the neatly stacked bins of albums and cassettes, music from the U.S. and abroad, and am fascinated by such a large and diverse collection. To the left of the bins were headphones and four combination cassette-turntables. At the information desk, I discovered my library card gave me access to the music and equipment for two-hours; I could listen to any of the music available.

Being in the reflective and contemplative mood that I was in, I’d chosen two classical pieces for my listening pleasure, Heifetz-Bruch Concerto in G Minor and Mozart Concerto in D Major. In my journal I made the following reflection about the music in general, and the library specifically: “The library is a good place to relax and [collect your thoughts]; a good place to read and [discover] the world. Now I know where to come whenever I need to get away….” I note how the music was just the medicine needed to bring me out of the funk I was in. It “set my soul on fire”, and suddenly the day went from bad to spectacular. On March 11, 1982, a wet and gloomy day, I found sunshine and blue skies at the Main Library. I knew then, I’d located a treasure worth keeping.

More than 25 years later, I can look back and re-live the nugget of memory, and sensation of pleasure from revisiting that day in my journal. The public library isn’t just a place for me to find a bounty of services and programs, but the library is an important jewel in any community. It is quite a reward. Each day, people are discovering all that the library offers; in addition to checking out books, movies, and music, people visit their local libraries to be connected to other people, to see and hear the work of local artists, to attend workshops on just about anything you can imagine—how to write a resume or how to discover your gift for writing poetry. This year, the California State Library provided funding to Oakland Public Libraries to establish Oakland Word, a 14-week program to improve the literacy and self-sufficiency of many residents in the city. Among the free classes, included are creative writing and skills building workshops, as well as community performances and events. For many, this series is just what was needed in these tough and trying economic times. The creative writing and poetry workshops provided an innovative outlet and window of opportunity for residents to show off, or even discover their talents.

The public library has been and will continue to be a place to discover, rediscover, and find resources that inspire, assist, inform. You can even find refuge on a wet and dreary day. The wealth of knowledge and satisfaction it has given me and my community over the years has been worth its weight in gold. There is no better treasure.

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