I entered a writing competition and I read that the judge is a famous author. I’d heard of her, knew she was famous but I’d never read any of her work. Looked her up. She has been very prolific, written book after book after book in her long life. And she used to be a he. So there’s those books too. I wanted to start reading her books but, as times have changed, all the bookstores nearby have closed. Not too far away there is an independent one and a bit further another but they have a limited inventory. I would have to order what I wanted, and I didn’t know which book I wanted, but mainly I didn’t want to wait. I wanted it now.
In the next moment, I had a brilliant insight, I could get the book at the library. Yes, it was only a brilliant idea to me – it might have been someone else’s first thought. The days of my childhood came to mind and Oakwood Public Library always had been the best place to get a book in real time.
I did an internet search for the Oakland Public Library as I no longer live in Oakwood. I knew where the building was, I’d even signed up for and received a library card eight years ago when I moved here – but I had never taken out even one book. I bought every book I’d read for many years – a lot of them were purchased used at “The Friends of Oakland Public Library” bookstore in Old Oakland during my lunch hours. I even bought Cheryl Strayed’s Wild there while it was still number one on the NY Times bestseller list. They receive some choice donations.
I knew I could walk over to the Main Library on my lunch hour so I went to their web site. I looked up the author and saw a lot of her books were in their inventory – some available, some not. All right!
I could not remember the last time I took a book out from the library. Growing up, I spent so much time at the library. Basically, whenever I wanted. I always loved reading. In high school, there was no argument from the parents even if the real reason was to go meet some boy who had convinced his parents he needed to be there too. Nothing much happened except a little flirtation. Those librarians had hawk eyes. Mostly I went to do research for a paper, not to meet boys. Really.
So before my lunch hour, I signed up on-line for an Oakland Library card. The only requirement was that I pick it up within the next 14 days and bring two pieces of ID. No problem. I headed over at noon. I remembered where I went the first time I got a library card there. The card that was never used to check out a book. I went to the side door – the door for the children’s books. It didn’t seem like anyone was in there except the employees. I guess school already started for the fall. I did hear the voice of one child laughing from a back room.
I spoke to the woman at the desk. She was so attentive and kind that I thought I was in a time warp. She instantaneously created my library card from the information I’d entered on-line a few hours prior and directed me upstairs where I could locate the works I wanted. She told me that, as I was a new member, I was limited to two books and they were due in two weeks. Oh, and if they were late, 25 cents a day fine. OK. No problem. Working full time, it would be an aggressive schedule for me to get through two books in two weeks. I’m on a computer all day – my eyes need a rest on weekends.
After I ascended the stairs to the adult sections, the first person I saw was a woman, young and beautiful by the way, who wore a badge that said “volunteer”. She looked pregnant. I didn’t ask as I’d hate to be wrong.
“Oh, are you here to help people?” I asked.
I told her that I had just joined but had no idea where anything was. I said the name of the author I was looking for and she looked her up on the computer and we perused all of her work the Library had on their shelves. There were a bunch of numbers next to the book listing and I confirmed it was the Dewey Decimal System. I thought the US was going to convert to an alternative but I guess that went the way of our conversion to the metric system. One of the books I wanted was coded 914.5. The volunteer pulled out a map of the library and pointed to the section where I would find the book. I headed over.
This library is a grand library. The ceilings are high, the building beautiful. As I walked to find the book, I passed table after table of people reading books, clicking away on their laptops, flipping through magazines. It was vibrant. It was exciting.
I found one of her books. She wrote many travelogues and these are shelved differently than fiction. Once you find one book, you don’t find the rest. I found the one on Trieste, Italy but the others, such as those on Wales and England were shelved elsewhere – I’d need to return to the computer to find out where. Not today.
I only needed one book to start so meandered around to find the check out. There was one somewhere I’m sure but I saw a sign for self-checkout. I had no idea what the process was but there was a big sign with instructions and I figured it had to be easier than the self-checkout at the supermarket. It was. All you need to do is find the bar code and match it with the red line of the laser.
As I walked back to work, I tried to remember the last time I checked out a book at a library. I came up with 1981, the NYU Business School Library. Thirty-four years ago. Before today, it hadn’t occurred to me that libraries had evolved with everything else. Of course. And, if you’re looking for a book, a library may be the first place you’ll find it.