Every so often I am compelled to write about libraries. I love libraries. I love that they're filled with books. I love that you can read those books for free. I love that each library has its own quirks and personality. (My childhood library, for instance, features a moose head on the wall of the children's room.) And now, as libraries expand and adapt our ever-changing lives, I love that you can find everything from movies to museum passes at the library.
I'm writing today because—for the sixth time in my life—I have a new library to call "mine". Each time I move to a new town, I hurry to get acquainted with its library. I want to know which corners have the best light and the fewest distractions. I like getting to know the circulation librarians and discovering who else frequents the library when I do. I try to poke around the library's programming to discover whether or not they offer book clubs, reading programs for adults, or other social activities.
This newest library is the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. I have to admit that my first few trips to the library were intimidating. Unlike many of the other libraries in my life, the layout of Forbes isn't exactly intuitive. There are large reading rooms on the first floor, but upon first glance, most of the "fun" books seem to be sequestered on various floors and in hidden rooms, all of which appear to subscribe to the oh-so-New-England tradition of "you can't get there from here".
Frustrated, I left on my first few attempts feeling like this just wasn't the library for me. I resolved to simply reserve all of my requests online (I'm still amazed that you can do this... what service!) so that I could just march into the library and pick things up at the circulation desk without having to wander around.
I tried this attempt for a couple of weeks. Then, I got over my—I don't know exactly what: pride? annoyance?—and asked someone to direct me to the audio books so that I could poke around. That led me to discover the racks of CDs and DVDs you can borrow. And the musical scores. And the art gallery that is full of paintings one week and photographs from around the world the next. I found a snug alcove full of magazines. I discovered the reference desk. I finally stumbled upon the fiction.
I started visiting the library every couple of days. (What did I expect, being within stone-throwing distance? It's like an addiction.) In addition to getting used to the library's funky layout, I also started chatting with its librarians (who gave me great ideas for new books and movies to check out and who rarely snickered when I borrowed things like The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and Magic Mike). I even discovered the Forbes Library's incredible reader advisory service, where you send them a list of books you like, and a list of those you don't (with a bit of narrative to explain yourself) and they send you a personalized reading list in return. I was incredibly pleased with my results; of the list I had read and enjoyed several, and promptly began requesting the others. I have yet to be disappointed.
In any event, I love that I can borrow Zumba for Wii, Downton Abbey DVDs, and Stephen King novels all in one trip to Forbes. I appreciate that when I return an audio book or a movie, sans the last disc (as I've done three times now), they don't scold me, but do call to remind me. And because I'm a fun-loving person at heart, I also like that they have raffles, a bust of someone (Calvin Coolidge? Charles Forbes?) that often wears hats and goofy eyewear, a summer reading program for adults, and even prizes (I once won a bagel and coffee!).
I know that libraries are different things for different people. But for me, libraries will always be equal parts wonder (I can browse to my heart's content and borrow all these amazing things at no cost!) and comfort (they know me here and they're friendly!). So thanks, Forbes. I'm glad that you're in my community and that I got over my trepidation of your sprawling spaces. I'm sure I'll be in tomorrow (I have holds available for pick up, of course). See you then!