The following is a guest post from Managing Editor Andy Ambraziejus about his lifelong love of the library and the important role the library plays in the community.
“The library was a magical place for me.”
“The librarian was my secret ally.”
“Going to the library was a treat.”
“I loved books at an early age, practically living in the library during the summer months.”
“I loved walking to [the library], especially on snowy days.”
Those are some of the comments I got from my colleagues here at AMACOM when I asked them about what going to the library has meant to them. As you can see, the bonds many of us developed with libraries were deep. Formed early in life, they made us think of libraries and librarians as our friends – nurturing, perhaps secret friends, who helped us discover new worlds through the books and other material we found once we started visiting the library.
For me, the library was both a refuge and a place of discovery during adolescence and my teen years. I was raised by parents who were immigrants. They wanted their children to take advantage of all the opportunities their adopted country had to offer but they were also more than a bit daunted by the confusing choices out there in this sometimes frightening, confusing new country. So they were very protective, perhaps overly so.
For me, the library became a place to escape and learn more about the world that was opening up to me. Saturday afternoons were golden. I guess it was a sign back then that I was already the proverbial bookworm who would end up working with books. While my friends were out playing ball or just hanging around, I went to my local library. Ostensibly it was to do homework. But so often that was just an excuse and the homework was put aside. Wow! All those magazines to read! Here were some on travel and foreign countries with gorgeous pictures that made me want to visit those places immediately. And books and magazines on movies! And reviews! I loved movies, too, and now could read what others thought of them.
And best of all: old newspapers on microfilm. I unrolled spool after spool of headlines and stories about the sinking of the Titanic; World War II, the walk on the moon, and other historical events; and more reviews of movies, plays, and books and other headline-grabbing events that caught my imagination.
Now, of course, much of this material can be found online. But there is another memory from those Saturday afternoons, a little harder to quantify. The memory is of a place, a place where I felt at home. Safe and secure, and away from the tumult of the real world with its responsibilities and sometimes conflicting demands. The quiet hush was not oppressive but nurturing, a place to unwind and relax and start exploring everything the library had to offer. And being surrounded by other people doing the same thing gave added comfort and security. There were other people like me who preferred this place to hanging out or playing outside. I wasn’t alone.
There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently about the reconfiguration of a new space for one of Manhattan’s branch libraries, the Donnell. There is controversy about the space allotted for books. The architect, defending the new configuration, was quoted as saying, “It [the library] has become more like a cultural space, which is about gathering people, giving people the opportunity to encounter each other… It’s not really about just being a repository of books.”
A recent study by the Pew Research Center reported in School Library Journal echoes these sentiments even more strongly where children are concerned. Titled “Why Parents Love Libraries,” the report states that 94 percent of parents feel libraries are important for their kids. Of these, 84 percent say libraries help inculcate their children’s love of reading and books, 81 percent say libraries provide their children with resources not available at home, 71 percent say libraries are a safe place for children.
With the proliferation of ebooks, social media, and the internet at our fingertips at home, it’s easy to forget how much the library means to so many of us, and how that connection started at a young age. Yes, at its core the library is a place for storing and borrowing books. But it’s also so much more. From the colleague who remembered visiting the library as a post-Hurricane Sandy refuge, which had power and heat, to all those who connected with the new books and authors they discovered there, it was a place not only to discover the world but to begin to find one’s place in it, too.
Andy Ambraziejus is AMACOM’s Managing Editor. He started working for AMACOM in August 1999. He runs the Production Department, which includes the Associate Editors who work on the editorial side of things getting the books copyedited, proofread, index, and designed. You can follow Andy on twitter at @AndyAmbraziejus.