March 16th, 2020. That is the date when libraries closed their doors. I had had an inclination on March 15th and had made a frantic last-minute trip. Those books helped, but the quarantine ticked on– four months, five months, six months. Today, after more than half a year away from my beloved public library, I got to go back.
I had loaned my car to my sister, so I biked over. I packed my mask and hand sanitiser, and packed my backpack full of books to return.
The parking lot was dotted with cars. A couple of small family groups walked cautiously in. I parked and locked my bike, then sanitised my hands and masked up. As I approached the library’s front doors, I was unprepared for the emotions that waited for me. I felt comfortable. I felt safe. It felt like I was home.
The rush of feelings made me recognise how much I’d missed the library. I took a deep breath and walked in. I felt my face light up as I saw those shelves upon shelves full of books waiting to be read. I let loose and picked up every book that caught my interest. Arms full of adventures waiting to be had, I signed out my newfound treasures.
I biked home with a huge smile on my face, then unpacked with glee. My whole demeanor had shifted, and the world was now a friendlier place. To be able to go to a building and have free access to thousands of books is my definition of heaven.
Throughout my life, libraries have been a source of comfort, a place I could go when the world got too heavy. In Jr. High, I would try to get a detention so that I could go and shelve books in the library. The librarians were my friends, and I got to see all the new books as they arrived.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Public libraries have been important for many marginalised people in a society. The idea that you can go and get books, use a computer, access the internet, or print, for free, revolutionises the way we think about who knowledge is for. Anyone can walk into a library with confidence, regardless of income. There is still so much social stratification based on finances: People still have different access to food, housing, and health outcomes based on their income and social status. The public library eschews all that.
The library is everything that is right in the world. To all the custodians, curators, librarians, and historians keeping knowledge free, I say: thank you. Endlessly.
Books should be free, and freely available. Knowledge should be free. Libraries show us that a better world is possible. Libraries show us what freedom is. And now that mine is open again, I am free too.
Featured image was created by the author, using elements from canva.com.