Literacy has always been a passion, since the first time my mother took me to our small town public library housed in an old brick red fire station. “Only 3 books” was the limit back then. I suppose that’s how many she could locate, per kid, around the house on due day. A voracious reader, I remember being a young teen bored with the selections of the Young Adult room and wandering through the archway into the Adult Non-Fiction section. I spied the books on human sexuality, and thumbed through “Our Bodies, Our Selves”. Now this was information our parents and priest never told us! I tried to check the volume out, but the librarian said I’d need my mother’s approval first. “That’ll never happen” I thought and put the book back down.
Just out of my teens, I became an advocate for women’s health rights and volunteered at the local family planning agency around the time when area clinics were being bombed by fundamental thinkers. I felt my right to knowledge and healthcare, along with the rights of women in my community, were so important that it was worth the personal risk to go back every week to file charts. I’m sure my earlier discovery of the wide availability of books and information at my local public library (and subsequent censorship due to my age) contributed to my desire to assist in offering full disclosure to others in this arena.
When I’m RVing, after I secure my next campground, my next step is to locate the public library, mostly for internet access. But also because I am a library connoisseur. Since my teenage years I’ve worked at one public library, volunteered at three more, served on two literacy boards, and taught basic reading and computer skills. I will never forget teaching a recently released ex-con how to read. He was the youngest of 12 children, poor, and had dropped out of school with learning disabilities and addictions, and started stealing cars. When we met at the City Mission the first time, he could only remember 20 of the 26 letters of the alphabet.
This man was a deep thinker who loved to roam the woods when he lived in the country, and composed poems that more literate peers wrote down on his behalf. He couldn’t read the poem he presented to me on a well-worn sheet of paper, yet he could recite it. So, we started sounding out words together by reading a book of Robert Frost’s nature poetry. I thought “How can you possibly survive in this society without the ability to read a street sign?” And was so very grateful for my regularly scheduled trips to the library and excellent public school education.
When I was parked in Brighton, CO last week, I made several trips to the Anythink Library. It was such an impressive facility, with exceptional staff, that I commented on it to anyone within earshot. The first thing that struck me was the number of young people on the premises. A separate teen area and study rooms hosted dozens of teens working on borrowed laptop computers, complete with headphones and a mouse that could be checked out to their library card if desired. I brought my own laptop in to use, and settled in front of this fireplace. Where else are you encouraged to put your feet up on the furniture and relax?
Bright green lampshades over different sections of the stacks were stenciled with words like “Relax. Retreat. Create.” In addition to glassed-off a toddler room decorated with floor pillows and kid-height educational games, there was access to a fenced in play yard. Many families speaking several languages, worked with their little ones to find books and play in the stimulating environment.
But the coolest parts of this Anythink Library were the automated features. I was encouraged to get a library card even though I was “just visiting” and checked out two books and two DVD’s the first day. My card entitles me to check out audio books online, and stream music and movies wherever there’s wi-fi. But I wanted some to playback on my PC. The DVD cases were in alphabetical order, typical to most library systems. However, the self-checkout station scanned in my library card, then the barcodes on the books and DVD cases. It took less than a minute to get my receipt printed out and the DVD’s were delivered ala Redbox from several electronic distribution machines nearby. I plucked the DVD’s out and put them in their cases and was out the door, thoroughly impressed.
When it came time to return my materials, I asked the librarian where the check-in area was, and she pointed back the way I came in. “You can drive or walk through and drop off your materials, which are automatically scanned in.” If you have a hold to pick up, you can either drive through to the window that opens like a bank teller’s window; or walk inside, pick them up on the designated shelf and check them out yourself. No wonder the staff here was exceptionally upbeat and friendly – the tasks that can be automated have been, so they are free to help folks find materials, get started with technology, or answer everyday questions. There are 7 Anythink Libraries in the greater Denver area, and I hope to check out another one soon.