Celebrating Portals to Knowledge

I have a strange relationship with books. don’t get me wrong: I love books. I may even love them too much. I read books constantly. I often have a dozen books?not counting textbooks?on the go simultaneously.

However, if I buy a book, I’m likely condemning it to a dusty death. It’s not because I don’t want to read it. It’s just that, once the book is in my possession, it gets demoted from “must read” to “must read?eventually.” Knowing that I can read a purchased book anytime means there is no rush.

A library book, on the other hand, suffers no such fate. When I borrow a book from the library, it gets promoted to the top of the reading pile. Deadlines motivate me and, because I’ve got to return a library book in three weeks, I have to start reading it right away. I borrow a dozen library books each month, which means the purchased books continue to pile up?unread.

October is Canadian Library Month, and the week of October 18 to 24 is Public Library Week in Ontario, where I live. The library, to me, is much more than a big box of free books: It’s an intoxicating portal to a vast world of knowledge. That’s definitely worth celebrating. Here are three things I love about libraries:

Free books. If we had to buy every book we read, we would be poor and the trees would all disappear. I read between 100 and 150 books each year, and I borrow more than two-thirds of them from the library (the remainder I receive as gifts, borrow from friends, or buy.) When I want to read a book, I first check if I can get it from the library. With inter-library loan, I can access books from any Ontario public library through my local branch. Libraries these days offer much more than books, but books are still my main reason for going there.

There is more in the box besides books. Public libraries have evolved into community hubs. Although books, thankfully, are still a big part of libraries, services expand year after year. I still get most of the DVDs I watch from the library, as well as many of the magazines I read. I go to art shows, lectures, and author signings at the library. I even occasionally used the wifi, photocopier, or fax machine. Most of these services and events are free. The only library fee I pay?excluding overdue fines?is the proctor service for my AU exams.

Peace and quiet. For many years, I passed by a branch of the public library on my way home from work. I would often stop in to enjoy a transitional oasis?a break between the duties of employment and the duties of home. In the quiet of the library, I de-stressed and recharged while leisurely browsing the rows and rows of books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. It’s like shopping therapy except there’s no credit card bill.

Although I don’t pass by the library daily any more, I still manage to visit the local branch at least once a week. The library allows me to indulge my passion for books without breaking the bank?or killing trees. The library, to me, is like a big box full of books (and magazines and music and movies) that I don’t have to pay for. More importantly, It’s a portal to knowledge that makes life-long learning possible. Happy Library Month, Canada!

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.