Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's a library for?

My brother, visiting me from New Hampshire last year, was surprised to see all the cars in the Brown Library parking lot as we drove in.  "I would think most people didn't need to use a library much any more," he commented. "We all have computers at home and ipads and smart phones in our pockets.  We can look up anything we want from there."
"Come on in," I told him.  "I'll give you a tour.  You'll really be surprised, then."
There are a lot of people who think the way Tom does.  They forget that the role of a library isn't only books.  A town library is a center for a whole community, making sure it has the resources each of its citizens needs to live, work, and learn.  Those needs are as many and varied as the people who make up a community.  But really, they can be boiled down to one:  the need to know.
A town is only as in-the-know as its people are.  All its people:  rich or poor, higher or basically educated; whatever their family, culture and background, its citizens make a town progressive.  Neighborhoods grow, jobs appear, good schools are built, the arts and recreation flourish, the job applicant pool becomes smarter--all of us become smarter and healthier at living.
I have a favorite saying, attributed to one of our smarter statesmen:  If you think keeping libraries is expensive, try the cost of living in an ignorant country.
But that's just words.  My brother is a businessman. Business for him is seven days a week for long hours.  He feeds people breakfast and lunch--good food, good customers, good service in an easy, friendly atmosphere.  In his world, all that is connected by a single keystroke:  the energy of himself and his family who works equally hard with him.  But the needs of his customers aren't all the same--some arrive at the door at 6 am for a few cups of coffee and a roll before work.  A little later, their friends walk in to make contact and order their first meal of the day--it's a local morning ritual--choosing from a menu of fifteen or twenty items from oatmeal to eggs to pancakes.  Later on, some travelers will roll in from off the road on their way to hike or ski.  They want fancier stuff; they're on vacation, after all.  It isn't long to lunch, either, and that's a whole new crowd with different appetites.  After nearly thirty years, his restaurant has learned how to serve them all, keeping the tried-and-true, local comfort foods, but also adding new fare, healthier or trendier. 
So as we walked into the library, I began to point out to him what people were actually doing there, corner to corner.  The children's section to the right had a story hour going on for preschoolers whose parents brought them in to listen to Terry animate with puppets an adventurous tale.  Sure, their parents could read to them at home, but there was more fun doing it among friends. And they could take new books home.  A few children were working on the special children's computers, learning letters and numbers, making play of reading and researching. In front of us at the circulation desk were a line of people bringing back books and CDs or DVDs, and checking out new ones--edging in were two or three choosing from the new-book shelf.  Yes, they still read books with covers and pages; they can choose books that are favorites, books with large print, books on tape or CD, old books with beautiful illustrations.  They might own an e-reader or they might not--the library does e-books, too, free. (Did you know you could take classes in how to use an e-reader here, too?)
The fact that every carrel of computers were in use was another clue--this was where people came to check mail, apply for jobs, go to online classes, learn a language, look up what they need to know to fix plumbing or build a table or knit a sweater or grow a garden, use a digital camera, catch up with people far and near.  Home wasn't where they were hooked up; perhaps they couldn't afford it, perhaps they just needed help connecting, perhaps they were visiting from elsewhere and needed the wireless.  For so many of us, the library is the place to go to know and to keep up with the world wherever we are.
Beyond them were people reading the newspapers and magazines, researching genealogy in the History Room, choosing films and music to borrow, nesting in the young-adult section, and around the corner, looking for mysteries and fiction.  Someone in the tutoring room was tutoring a student.  Upstairs in the community room, some group was meeting.
And down in the offices, the library director and her staff were keeping it all happening, the same way my brother does in his kitchen.  It's not a large staff, but they work hard and manage to keep everyone in the community, whatever their resources, income, or connectedness, equally able to access the table and the necessary nourishment of the mind.
"Wow," my brother said. Yes, indeed. 
In case you, too, are forgetting about the real value of a library, take your own tour of Brown Library any day of the week and catch up on the learning and information center of Washington and Beaufort County.
Then become a Friend of the Brown Library--it costs very little for each of us, but it means an enormous amount to everyone we live among.  Being a Friend is a very community thing to do.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Favorite Reads

Read anything good lately?   One of my favorites from this summer's stock was Nicole Mones' The Last Chinese Chef, found on the New Books shelf.  A San Francisco food critic, still mourning for her husband and finding herself even more unsettled by a letter from China which implicates him in a strange lawsuit, and an American chef, going back to his roots in China to open a new restaurant against all sorts of political and social obstructions, become entangled in the intrigue of the suit and in each other's losses and aspirations.  It's a small book, but so charming and so patient with its characters' growths. The Chinese cuisine in its historical perspective gave the whole book an ingenious (and appetizing) framework.  How about you?  We'd like to hear about the pages you're turning, too.

Fall Means More Books for the Friends!

Mark your calendars! 
January 23-26, 2014
It's not only school children going back to the books.  Fall sets the Friends to browsing and reading, and also collecting books, CDs and DVDs, donating them for our January Book Sale.  We ought to call it the Friends January Extravaganza, for as one avid reader told us at our book tables at the Saturday Market, "I wait all year for your January weekend of books!  I'm there every single day to cart away bags full of my favorite authors!" 
Donating Books:  We're always glad to hear from our fans, and even  happier to have an opportunity to remind everyone that this is a good time of year to donate their old books, too.
Ginny Warren, Bettyanne Dicken and other volunteers have been working all year sorting and boxing what's already come in, but we can always use more.  As our friend at the Market said the other day, "The more the better to choose treasures from!"
To Donate Books, simply bring them to Brown Library and put them in the basket just inside the front doors before the Circulation Desk.  If you have boxes of them and need assistance, ask for Perry, who helps us manage the donated books and is usually available in the mornings.
Each book we sell, summer or winter, gets translated into new and better materials, equipment, furnishings--and yes, books!--for Brown.

Thanks!  Summer's fading, but not before we thank all our patrons for the 2013 Summer Book Sale at Saturday Market on the waterfront in downtown Washington.  We have a few Saturdays more to offer our great book bargains, so come down and take your pick until early October.
Let's also take this time to give great thanks to Diane Giffin, who coordinates the sale and gathers the many generous volunteers who come out to attend our tables each week from April through October, quite an organizational feat.  We wouldn't want this to get around too much, but, actually, volunteering at the Summer Sales is fun!  Readers line up to see our selections and chat about what they've read; sipping cold coffee, we wave to marketing friends and catch up on neighborhood gossip.  (Oh, and we sell lots of books, too...)  What could be a better way to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning in summer?  If you'd like to volunteer for next year's Summer Sale, just send Diane a note at No experience necessary--we'll train you on the spot.

We Never Take Reading for Granted  Pairing up with the Literacy Volunteers of Beaufort County, the Friends are co-sponsoring Craven County native EARL MILLS, who will read from his book of poetry, From Illiterate to Poet.  Join us on Sunday October 6, 2013, 2-4 pm at Wesley Hall in the First United Methodist Church, West Second Street in Washington. 
Mills' story is one we all need to listen to, especially those of us who take reading and education for granted.  Mills graduated from high school in 1971, but he couldn't read beyond a second grade level, something only his wife of 39 years knew.  One night he was called on to read at his church.  His heart sank.  He tried to think of some excuse:  "I couldn't find my glasses.  I stumbled through every word."
Then he discovered the Craven County Literacy Volunteers, and at 48, he read his first book.  A whole world opened to him, and since then he has read more than 70 books and novels, and written over 40 poems.  Like many people the Literacy Volunteers (pictured below) help, he found the gift of reading in himself. 

Our fall program is free and open to the public.