Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Welcoming places

He felt strongly that libraries of any kind, even one this grand, should prove welcoming places.
Christopher Fowler, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart

I am writing this in a library, the spacious, modern, beautifully designed and welcoming public library in Largo, Fla. I have loved this library since my first visit a number of years ago when I came for an appearance by Bob Greene, the former syndicated newspaper columnist who had written a new book. Now I come here sometimes three or four times a week during my winters in Florida.

Never mind the cliched image of a spinsterly librarian shushing children and other patrons who fail to speak in a whisper, I think most public libraries are welcoming. They have to be. Their services may be mostly free, but still the jobs of librarians depend on patrons using those services, just as the livelihoods of shopkeepers depend on their customers.

Perhaps fewer people read books today than did a few decades ago, but libraries still seem to be busy places. People go there for meetings, to use computers, to check genealogy records, to read the daily newspaper and the latest magazines, to learn English or to learn how to read, to shop for inexpensive used books offered by the Friends of the Library and to check out movies, music CDs, recorded books and sometimes other items. I've known libraries that lend jigsaw puzzles, works of art and even athletic equipment.

Libraries are such welcoming places that even authors, publishers and bookstores rarely complain about them, even though public libraries significantly cut into their income. When I attended a discussion by independent bookstore owners at Kenyon College last fall, I noted that while they complained about the negative influence of Barnes & Noble, Amazon and discounted books in general, they had nothing negative to say about libraries. Almost everybody loves them.

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