The Numbers I Know by Heart
This special post was written by Anna Lea Jancewicz of Norfolk, VA — It’s her ‘love letter’ for public libraries. Her library is the Norfolk Public Library http://www.norfolkpubliclibrary.org
My confession: If asked for my children’s social security numbers, I will flail and sputter. Those particular strings of Very Important Numbers are still wholly unknown to me. Hopefully, given enough time, I would be able to find the little cards on which they are printed. I do know they’ve been squirreled away somewhere in the file cabinet in my home office, but thus far I’ve been able to skate by without committing the digits to memory. I do, however, know my children’s library card numbers by heart.
We are a homeschooling family, and moreover a working class one. The public library is our home away from home. I state this without a trace of hyperbole. On average, we visit four or five days a week. The librarians all know my kids by name. They even know to call my son Batman, since he recently decided that his given name just won’t do. We are a family of readers, a family of learners, and without the free service of our library, we would be bankrupted, or worse yet, we would have to do with considerably fewer books. A grim prospect, for sure.
Of course, it’s not just the books. Everybody in our household always has a towering to-be-read pile, yes. There are my daughter’s dragon books, superhero books, how-to-draw books. She’s smitten right now by graphic novels, and girl detectives. She checks out anything about cats, rocks and minerals, fairies. My son gathers up armfuls of Batman stories, and everything with trains and dinosaurs. My husband and I both max out our cards regularly, too. But along with the books, we’re borrowing DVDs I can’t remember the last time we spent money on a movie —not to mention my daughter’s passion for listening to her favorite children’s literature on CD. She’d much rather listen to Harry Potter or A Wrinkle in Time than watch television, and that makes me very happy.
Our library also now offers e-books for download, and a fair selection of movies for streaming online. It’s been rare for me to want a book and be unable to get it, thanks to the Interlibrary Loan. There have been several times when I’ve requested the library buy a specific title to add to its collection, and I’ve only once been disappointed. Our favorite librarians and library aides are always eager to suggest books and movies that one of us is sure to enjoy, and their guidance and recommendations are priceless resources.
We depend on the public library for much more than these materials, though. The programs offered are very valuable to us. Story times, art projects, the weekly Game Day for homeschoolers who want to meet for table-top fun. STEM workshops, Lego meet-ups, movies on the big screen (with popcorn!). Holiday crafts, visits from beloved characters, puppet and magic shows. Music programs, science demonstrations, animals brought from the local zoo and aquarium. These programs beautifully complement our home curriculum and enrichment classes, and without them our days would certainly be paler. Especially in the summer, when the activities schedule ramps up as more schoolkids frequent the branches, there is so much going on that we couldn’t possibly do it all. There is no need for us to scrounge pennies to pay for a summer camp when the library will keep us busy without cost every day.
Even beyond the books and movies, and without all the glamor and excitement of story time with a six foot tall Wild Thing straight out of Sendak, or splatter-painting their own renditions of Jackson Pollack’s masterpieces, the library is a place that is essential for my kids. There’s no better place to play on a rainy afternoon than the toy room at any given branch. Our favorite branch has the bonus of a little nature preserve right in its backyard. There’s a loop of paved trail, a wide open field for running wild, and my kids’ cherished “Twisty Tree”, which is a perfect spot for climbing, hiding, and fort play. Foul weather or not, the library is an excellent place to meet up with friends for a playdate, or just hang out and see what magic happens. Today, my daughter explored the small garden plot with her favorite Children’s Librarian, and helped her pick the summer’s first strawberries. They were red and sweet.
The library is also the place that helps me keep some vestige of my own sanity. It’s not always easy being a “stay at home mom”; let alone a homeschooling one. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated or stir-crazy, we can head out to the library. Even if we’re not meeting other playmates and mothers, I can always talk and joke with one of the librarians with whom I’ve become real friends. While the kids look for books and enjoy the Lego table or play kitchen or train set, I’m sometimes even able to catch up on some of my writing or editing. And when I really need alone time, and can leave the kids with my husband after he gets home from work, the library is still my first choice for sanctuary. There’s nothing better than taking an hour to browse the stacks on my own, or finding a nice quiet spot in a corner to set up my laptop and really get down to business with my novel.
I can’t imagine our lives without the public library. Right here, right now, I don’t feel that we’re lacking anything in terms of educational or social opportunity because the children aren’t in school or because of our limited financial means. I have a lot of people and institutions to thank for that; we are members of a fantastic homeschool co-op, there is a very strong and vibrant homeschooling community in our local area, our city’s Parks and Recreation department offers a broad variety of high quality and affordable classes, our synagogue has a top-notch Hebrew School program; ”but above all, we depend on and cherish our library and everyone who works so hard and so happily to make it a wonderful, welcoming place.
I’ve read the opinion pieces claiming that public libraries are outdated and irrelevant. For families like mine, the existence of the public library and its funding is crucial. For us, the library is knowledge, and it is joy. It is imagination, and friendship. It is refuge, wonder, hope. It is the surprise of sun-warmed strawberries on an ordinary afternoon. It’s magic. And it’s ours.