I grew up in Mayberry, basically.
Except it was called Stillwater, Minnesota– an idyllic, historical town along the St. Croix River. There’s a quintessential American main street, a diner with waitresses who’ve worked there since the Reagan administration, townie bars where everyone knows your name and all your business. Literally.
The Stillwater Public Library is one of the most beautiful places in town.
Built in 1902 (and funded mostly by Andrew Carnegie), the stunning Beaux Arts building looks old-timey fancy and overlooks the Saint Croix River.
As a kid, I remember loving trips to the library, digging through shelves to find books from the Sleepover Friends series (not Babysitters Club, which I only liked because I wanted to have Stacey’s handwriting) and creepy R.L. Stine thrillers.
The librarians were so librarian-y (except one who always looked more like a cocktail waitress). At any rate, I loved the public library as a kid.
Fast-forward to my sophomore year of college.
University of Wisconsin, circa 2003. I enjoyed studying at coffee shops and the college’s libraries. It was nice to get out of my crappy apartment. One day, I walked by the Madison Public Library and thought, “Hmmm… why have I never studied there?”
So I popped in.
Pardon my honesty, but I immediately noticed a distinct funk in the air.
The building was old (in a bad way), filthy and reeked of body odor. Hrmm. I wasn’t just going to walk out, so I continued on and looked for a place to sit.
The entire library was full of homeless people, including this one guy John who regularly slept in the stairwell of my duplex (another weird story for another day).
I sat down and tried to be cool about it. Shortly thereafter, some creepy guy started talking at me. I escaped to the bathroom, which was littered with toilet paper. Next to the sink sat two empty 40s. People drink in a library? Are you kiddin’ me?!
Smell ya later, scary library!
I told a few friends about my library experience and they were all like, “Yeah, that’s the library for ya!” WHAT?! I thought the libraries are all puppies and rainbows and old people checking out large print books. What a sheltered life I’d lived!
I was so turned off, I did not enter another public library until a month ago.
I’d joined my first book club. Instead of buying the book, I decided I would borrow from the brand new Hennepin County Library, which just opened a mile from my house.
I was nervous about a few things.
One, parking. Street parking is impossible near the library. I’d normally walk, but it was two degrees. Two, the rigmarole of obtaining a card. Three, finding my book. And lastly, creepy people.
When I pulled up to the library, I realized they have heated, underground parking for $1 an hour. Not only that, but it was nearly empty and well-lit.
Well, that was easier than expected.
As I entered the library, I immediately noticed the abundance of natural light flooding through the south-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows.
No funky smell. Incredibly clean. Quiet.
Next, I told the librarian I needed a library card. I expected her to be all judgmental (why don’t you already have one?! I’ll bet you don’t even take public transportation!), but she wasn’t. I showed her my driver’s license and within minutes, I had my card.
Now onto finding the book.
I realized I didn’t even know what I was looking for: Fiction or non-fiction? No idea. Author name? You got me. I knew the book title, and hoped the computer sitting at a nearby kiosk was available for folks to search.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Non-fiction. I wrote down the author’s name and walked toward the non-fiction section.
Larson, Larson, Larson. Where were the Ls? I finally found them and lo-and behold, Erik Larson was not in the LA section. In fact, I couldn’t find any Larsons or Larsens or La-anything. Then it hit me:
Remember the Dewey Decimal System?!
Is that still a thing? Turns out, it IS still a thing, so back to the kiosk I went to find the number associated with my book, which was actually E748.D6 L37 2011. Of course!
I walked to a different computer, which looked like one of those self-check lanes at a grocery store. I didn’t want to ask, “how do I use this do-hickey.” I am a millennial and we know how to use technology. It was actually pretty easy: scan my library card, scan the book’s barcode, print receipt. It’s kind of crazy that in my lifetime, we’ve gone from card catalogues and check out cards to a totally computerized system.
Welcome to the future, y’all!
Thirty minutes and fifty cents on parking. That’s all this trip cost.
People were friendly, not drinking malt liquor or shouting at me and it was clean, clean, clean! And the best part: the library is like Barnes and Noble or Amazon or Half-priced Books… but FREE!
What a concept! Have you guys heard of libraries yet? They are the next big thing.
I’ll be back soon, library. And I’ll bring along the 90 cents I owe you for this two-day overdo book.
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Sometimes overcoming the mundane things are the scariest… but most rewarding! For example, the time I rode the bus home from work, the time I bought houseplants (they are all still alive, by the way!), and the time I made a rack of lamb at home.