According to the United States of Shame chart, I live in the nerdiest state.
I can relate to the first part of Wikipedia’s definition of nerd.
“Nerd is a term that refers to a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.”
I won’t get into the second part, having to do with being “awkward, shy and unattractive.”
I’ve always belonged to the Sisterhood of Obscure Interests. Membership naturally seems to include awkward, shy, and unattractive moments (or decades). But it makes life more interesting. For example, when I accidentally bashed my head on a shelf at the library today I “saw stars” and promptly ruminated on what visual cortex misfire might have caused those stars.
Already jazzed, I checked out what allegedly makes Ohioans nerdier than everyone else. Turns out, we have more library visits per capita library than any other state. Twice as many as our next door neighbor, Pennsylvania.
I’ll admit, the stacks of books my family brings home may be pushing up the state average. But we’re also fortunate to be surrounded by award-winning library systems. Who wouldn’t visit?
For those of you who don’t bliss out over libraries, or worse, only vaguely remember libraries as having a distinctive smell, here are a few of my reasons for being a library addict.
1. Magic water.
As a small child I was convinced there was something magical about the drinking fountain water at our local library. It tasted better than water anywhere else. I wondered if it had to do with the enviable proximity to all those books.
When I had kids I rhapsodized about the water at libraries. And they’ve always been able to taste the difference. Even though I realize there’s no factual basis for this belief, library water still seems more deeply refreshing than ordinary water. Try it and see for yourself.
A much more vital magic is evident in libraries around the world.
It has to do with a sense of history, of freely shared knowledge, and awe-inspiring architecture. When traveling I make sure to hang out in libraries. Most recently I found time to soak up the atmosphere of one of NYC’s awesome libraries.
These folks are amazing. As Erica Firment writes on Librarian Avengers,
“People become librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to disciplines. Librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing. They bring order to chaos. They bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. Librarians rule. And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.”
Librarian stereotypes aren’t relevant or cute. Don’t believe me? Check out The Bellydancing Librarian, The Steampunk Librarian, The Modified Librarian, and Miss Information. Still think of them as chronic shsser’s? Then read Your Librarian Hates You.
4. Library materials are free!
Our taxes pay for them whether you use them or not. Only suckers don’t get in there to scoop up the books, DVD’s, downloads, recorded books, electronic reader books, programs, classes, and more. My kids and I have strolled out after a library visit with well over 100 items checked out on a card or two.
Today’s libraries offer much more than well worn books and a chaotic Story Hour. Click over to your library’s website. You’ll find an amazing array of offerings well beyond the newest bestsellers. There are probably programs to get you started in fencing or felting or fraternizing with fellow foodies, just this week alone.
OMG, I love ordering materials. Our library systems are linked, so holdings can be sent from libraries in quite a few counties right to our own little branch. I read a review of a book before it’s released, then go to the library site and pre-order it. I order special book group offerings for our teen book group (up to 20 of the same book) that come organized by some saintly librarian with supplemental materials. I order obscure specialty books that were published back in the 1920’s and earlier.
We’ve homeschooled on the cheap thanks to our library system and the wonders of ordering materials. No way could I afford to expose my kids to the depth of information and range of experiences they’ve gained via libraries.
6. Online renewal.
I don’t know about your library system, but mine permits renewals up to five times. That gives me several months to adore most materials. Those months are necessary. I use books in my work, take them with me lest I have a dull moment, and leave them around for my kids to pick up when their eyeballs are unoccupied.
Sometimes I find books so precious that when they are finally and irrevocably due I end up buying a copy. But let me point out, I only buy books after proving their worth to myself. No regrettable book purchases here. Yay savings.
7. Library privileges.
I’ve been in a steady human relationship for a loooong time, but I’m a non-monogamous library user. Judging by the number of library cards in my name, I’m a pushover for the sweet allure of any library’s New Acquisitions section. It’s hard to unearn library privileges. Late fees are usually minimal and in many systems there are no late fees for seniors, teachers, and homeschoolers. Even when my account is labeled “delinquent” (often) I’m still able to check out and reserve materials. I don’t mind a few dollars here and there to make up for my late return crimes. Totally worth it. Unlike most human relationships, my library is always buying me something new, forgiving me when I atone, and consistently planning unexpected ways to lure me.
8. Research databases.
Library systems subscribe to pricey online database services that none of us could afford on our own. I access most of them from my home computer, simply logging in with my library card number. These databases include genealogy, academic research, news archives, digital images, health, and much more. I relied almost entirely on the resources of my award-winning Medina County Library for the research necessary to write my book.
9. That smell.
Libraries no longer smell like someone’s musty basement. The odor is something entirely different. I’ll tell you what it reminds me of, right after I tell you about how much I appreciate Russian language library materials.
For five summers we hosted a little girl from Belarus through the Children of Chernobyl project. And every summer before she arrived I called the librarian in charge of the foreign language collection at the Cleveland Public Library. We talked over Tatiana’s age and interests, then every few weeks through her three month stay this librarian sent to our rural library branch a wonderful selection of Russian materials. Harry Potter, children’s magazines, recorded children’s books, popular music, and much more. When my kids curled up with books or went to bed listening to CD’s, Tanya was able to do so as well. I hoped it eased the hunger she must have felt to hear her own language. Beyond that, it built connections between us almost immediately.
The first day she arrived, exhausted from long flights and weak from some medical problems, there was no way we could really communicate. It became obvious that our efforts to learn Russian had been laughable and as an eight-year-old her grasp of English was limited to “yes” and “thank you.” Then I remembered those blessed library materials. In a few minutes all of us were dancing to the Russian version of “Hokey Pokey” and laughing before collapsing in a heap on the couch together to giggle as we paged through a Russian/English picture book, challenging each other to pronounce the words. That stack of Russian library materials smelled, more than anything, like home. To me, every library smells like my place. Bet they smell like your place too.
Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything and working on a new project, Subversive Cooking.com. She lives on a small farm with her family and blogs optimistically.