One aspect of our on-going pandemic that has not gotten a lot of attention was the total closure of our public libraries. In mid-June San Francisco signaled that it would slowly begin reopening its Main Library and neighborhood branches after more than a year of closure. For me, this was the equivalent of seeing the flowers budding on trees after a long, cold, lonely winter.
There are probably people out there that would argue that libraries are not an essential service and their closure was justified. But those of us who are card-carrying members of the Library Appreciation Society would beg to differ. Libraries are a critical “third space” and while I will not second guess San Francisco’s decision to keep the buildings closed, I will champion their re-opening and make the case that they should stay open, regardless of what comes next.
Libraries are not just essential during a pandemic. They are essential, period; a key ingredient in the secret sauce necessary for a well-functioning, educated, literate, democratic society. Think about it: a library is a building stuffed to the brim with information and entertainment that is free to anyone regardless of their age, gender, religion, ethnicity, income or political persuasion. I’m entitled to the same information you are, and if we’re lucky, we can actually both read something at the same time. That is simply genius and without it, we are all lesser beings.
But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these folks clapping and hooting as the Main Library re-opens. This kind of adoration is normally reserved for rock concerts, but in SF we love our libraries.
As a writer I’m also dependent on libraries. There are only so many books about cemeteries, poisonous plants and ancient weapons I can collect. (More on that in a moment.) The library is my go to place for reference books – although I was disappointed once during a visit to Seattle to find that all of the books about witchcraft had been checked out.
I am building my own library of sorts, too. Mostly because I have a voracious curiosity and a never ending need to research vampires, fourteenth century daggers fashioned to kill specific demons and deadly herbs for potions. My latest obsession is books about cursed objects. I’ve picked up a few gems recently including a lovely book about “literary curiosities,” which I sincerely hope is never a phrase used to describe one of my books!
It’s nice to have your own reading library, but nothing compares to the real thing. If you haven’t recently, grab a mask and stroll over to your nearest library branch. Admire the shelves full of new releases and old favorites. Take a look at the folks sitting quietly in the corners reading and say a little thanks that one of life’s great pleasures is back.