Well Intended / Summer living -- at the library
Published 5:43 am, Thursday, August 2, 2012
I've been spending summer mornings in the library. And it turns out, I am not alone. There seems to be a constant and somewhat regular crowd that congregates before the locked doors at five minutes `til nine rain or shine.
I'm not a public writer. I don't work in cafes. I don't carry a Moleskine notebook or jot down profound thoughts and beautiful poems in public. I don't look beatnik chic. And though, I've heard all about he benefits of free coffee refills and wifi at Panera. I generally work slumped over my kitchen table in fattening proximity to the refrigerator wearing the exact same thing I wore the day before and alternating between paragraphs and laundry.
But, this summer, you can find me tucked into a public carroll, weekdays from 9 until 11 a.m. While most kids are sailing, canoeing, practicing archery, learning to glaze and fire clay pots in a kiln and knotting gimp into lanyards, my daughter is working with her tutor and creating an animated short film in a borrowed conference room at the Westport Public Library.
I've worked at the library before but not with any regularity. Their chairs are actually much more comfortable than mine are at home. And, that's where we all meet to charge our cell phones when the power is out after a storm (bring an extension cord). When my kids were little, we went to story time and every summer we join the summer reading program. We used to check out books too until my overdue library fines became so great that I often fear they'll post my picture out front, a warning not to loan me anything ever again. (In truth, I am sure they'd be most forgiving if I were brave enough to confess.)
Summer and libraries seem to go together. It seems almost paradoxical that we would read more when the weather's pleasant. But, I think we do. Wasn't it some distant summer that you read Ulysses? And we always hear about, great beach reads. Have you seen the book shelf at the beach hosted by the Westport library and stuffed with paperbacks lest you forget your novel? (There's one in the train station too.)
As a child, my mother signed me up for the summer reading program at the Mission Viejo public library, where there were sometimes marionette shows and movies and we earned glossy bookmarks and, once, an ice-cream sandwich, for reading a sufficient number of books. I felt I had an advantage, having a natural love of reading and a fondness for thinking in text from the start.
Libraries have changed since I was a girl and had to climb a round step stool to reach the upper drawers of the card catalogue. If anything, they're more relevant. I am a huge fan of books. I am sure librarians are too. And you'll still find books. But, libraries are embracing the future and finding ways to serve the community that might not have been considered before the digital revolution. And I am not just talking about including new media (which they are doing). In truth, you can benefit from the library and its resources without ever leaving your home through their website and its many reference options or by borrowing digital copies of books.
In the Great Hall on any weekday morning, I've seen strangers playing chess and placing a few pieces into a puzzle. There's a Maker Space erected where the community is invited to help construct model planes and to use a 3D printer. There are reading discussion groups for every genre. Authors are reading from their books and presenting ideas to engaged audiences. The Olympics are being shown on a large screen as are many other movies. Mommies and nannies and babies are toddling upstairs to the children's library where they will sing and play together. Teens are watching Japanese Anime. Parents, grandparents and caregivers can check out toys and books related to their summer travel plans. Community groups are holding meetings. Friends are getting together to share a cup of coffee. Job seekers are meeting with libraries to hone their resumes. The periodical rooms are filled with people who are writing or working or reading magazines while watching the swans and rowers on the river below. The lawn can be used for bocce or croquet. Brothers are playing table tennis on the patio with Ping Pong paddles and balls they checked out from the front desk. And I am procrastinating from doing my work just as I would at home, but in the happy company of engaged neighbors.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: email@example.com.