Friday, May 22, 2009

Keeping Libraries Alive

If there was one part of my immigrant experience I could choose to love best it would be the public libraries in America. The first time I walked into one, I felt like I was in Aladdin's cave and this was even before I had found out that I could check out upwards of twenty items including music and movies. My wonderment has not reduced over the years. I still count my blessings each time I visit a public library.

When I tell J about the thrill I experience l walking into the library, she looks perplexed. Though going to the library is among her favorite things to do, it is a natural element of her environment - no more remarkable that the air she breathes or the water she drinks. To her this is one among Mommy's many eccentricities - harmless but rather quaint.

She does not know that there is a different way of life too. One in which you slip your library card through a small window in a wall, select a book from a type-written catalog and wait for the the guy at the window to bring you back a dog-eared copy (if you are lucky) or come back another day to try your luck again. I read book-reviews voraciously knowing fully well that I would not be able to read the book itself in years if ever. My reading list filled a well-worn notebook - a catalog of my unfulfilled desire to know and learn what I could not.

That was my life growing up. So the bounty of the American public library is never lost on me - not for a minute. To read about the libraries around the US closing down or reducing staff and hours is specially sad. I can only hope that people in this country value the incomparable service public libraries provide enough to keep them funded through the hardest times. It is easy enough to take for granted what you have always had and not until it is irretrievably gone does the magnitude of the loss strike home. By then it is often too late. After all, we in the Indian subcontinent did not get to from Taxila and Nalanda to a hole in the wall library in a day.

4 comments:

proteinbound said...

Hello,

I recently started reading your blog. Your posts are great!

I completely echo your feelings about the public library system here. It has rarely happened that I read, hear or watch a review of a latest book and am unable to find that book in my township library the very next day! Isn't that amazing.....

Priyamvada_K said...

HC,
I too love the public libraries here - they are a great resource, and I am thankful.

I laughed when I read about "mom's eccentricities". I get that too from my kid - she has gone from imitating everything I do, to the questioning phase and thinking I'm weird in some ways :)

Priya.

Heartcrossings said...

Proteinbound - Thanks for stopping by and glad to know you like my blog ! I will probably never get over my amazement at the bounty of the American public libraries :)

Priya - It must be hard for our kids to "get" us given the cultural differences. I think they find our "weirdness" rather endearing - at least that's what I like to think :)

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...

Also, the kids growing up in the US shall never know that for many households, there is no access to any public library. For example, in a city like Mumbai with a population of 20 million, we have 15-20 public libraries and at many of these places, one shall have the exact same experience as the one you described.... give you card through a small window, tell the name of the book and pray that it is available!