Thank goodness for libraries

I love libraries. I love the philosophy of them; the invisible sign above the door that everyone can see—the sign that says, “You are welcome. You belong here. This is your library.”
A library often is the first place people visit when they move or are visiting a community. Unlike church or workplace or school, the public library shows no preference to one visitor over another, there is no hierarchy or segregation.
There is no I was here first.
In the library we find computers and Internet access, magazines and newspapers, chairs and tables, and all things inviting. Though the library requires an observance of quiet, it is a happy place, a sanctuary.
The collective wisdom from all the books, the words that someone put down on paper, gathers on the shelves and any and every book is available to us to open. This means the world’s knowledge is available to each and every one of us no matter our circumstance.
How wonderful.
I heard someone say not long ago that libraries are for dinosaurs, or at the very least the library’s bricks and mortar and bound paper are evidence of a no-longer-required world. I couldn’t disagree more.
In these times of Facebook, of texting, surfing, face-timing, and all manner of digital communication, the library is human; the library is a three-dimensional form and is visible to the naked eye. The library connects us.
People who are alone need not feel alone when they are in the library. A person may sit alone, but beside them will be someone else sitting alone—both of them reading, writing, researching, thinking, snoozing.
Unlike a coffee shop, the library is a space where no one is wondering what you are up to. No one is questioning your length of stay; is thinking you should have bought a muffin to go with that coffee to take up that space for that length of time.
Employees of the library work for us. They are hard-wired to help, are more than willing to share their knowledge and love of books. I think the hiring criteria clearly states, “must be friendly.”
I’m sure a few frauds sneak through, grouchy people giving off the pretense of being amicable, but very few.
There’s a hush in the library, an expectant breath-holding as though something wonderful is on the verge of discovery: a job search, an idea for a novel unfolding, an ancestor found, a solution to the wiring dilemma of your front doorbell, studying for a final exam.
Imagining goes on at the library. There is order and purpose, even when the rest of the world is displaying chaos and madness. I like to think that no written word is ever lost from us; that no book is ever deemed unworthy no matter the content.
I’ve read books whose author’s political views or moral stands differ dramatically from my own, but I am still the better for having read the words that buoyed up my own stance, that made me more certain of my own opinions.
I recently was in a Toronto library. I spent the day, my chosen place of escape, to work on my column while I waited for my daughter. In this particular library, there were very few, if any, visitors who looked like me.
I chose a table where I could comfortably spread out my papers and plug in my computer. Soon a woman came along with a computer in her bag that may have been the first prototype for laptops.
In her broken English, she asked me for help and the two of us tried, without success, to connect with the Internet. We shared a few laughs at our collective ineptness.
Then a man from the Philippines sat down with his shiny new computer and wondered if I might show him how to Skype with his friend back in the Philippines.
Between the two of us we worked it out and he introduced me to his very sleepy cousin, who smiled from his 3 a.m. digital image and said hello. He didn’t speak English but we understood one another.
I looked around the room and every desk, every cubicle had someone clicking and reading and writing. We belonged to the same library family.
I packed up my books and computer, and said my good-byes to my newfound friends and headed home to meet Samantha. The only thought in my head was: thank goodness for libraries.