This is my favorite quotation, but Borges should have added the word “public.” I intensely dislike college libraries. How often do you use your library card? My Baldwin Library lets you check out 50 items at one time. I have checked out 800 in the last 3 years. My library card is my only indispensable piece of plastic. I vividly remember getting my first card when I was 6. I knew I had arrived in paradise when I realized what I could do with it.
If you are searching for a place to bring up your children, immediately make friends with children’s and young adult librarians in the towns or cities you are considering. Schools and school libraries close at 3; librarians who serve kids and parents from 3 to 9 weekdays and Saturdays and Sundays know far more about schools than anyone else who might tell you the truth.
Don’t ask anyone whose educational and political philosophy you don’t know about. Very rich towns have better test scores and college acceptance rates, but that tells you absolutely nothing about the teachers or the curriculum. Do you want your kids to grow up in a wealthy white Republican ghetto?
Ask the librarians if teachers ever set foot in the library or notify the librarians of a future assignment. I have been a young adult librarian in 8 different libraries over 20 years. I can count the teachers who have ever cooperated with me, despite my many efforts to reach out to the middle and high schools. I always have to snatch reading lists from the kids and xerox them.
If librarians are notified, they will find the materials, put them on a book truck, and limit circulation. Otherwise, the first enterprising student to hit the library can walk out with all the books on the assigned topic. If they would send their curriculum to libraries before the school year starts, the library would be happy to supplement their collections.
At the North Bellmore Library, two second grade teachers told 50 kids to go to the library and each check out a book about a different kind of spider. I had difficulty supplying a book about Muddy Waters on a first grade level. If you want to make money, write a biography of every famous person at the first grade level so ignorant teachers can impress ignorant parents. Do the town’s kids know the difference between reference books written by the world’s experts over many years and the sixth grade report they find on the Internet?
Do all of you know that while not everything is available for free on the Internet, almost everything is free on your library’s online databases available from home? For example, you can get the full text of almost any major newspaper or magazine. Baldwin offers the New York Times back to the Civil War. Here is Baldwin’s collection of online databases. My daughters who attended Yale used to use them.
It does not matter if your local library is small or inadequate. It belongs to a huge cooperative system. For example, here is my Nassau Library System. Check out the Online Catalog. You can borrow books, CDs, DVDs from any library in the system by reserving them online and having them sent to your library. Your library will usually notify you by email when they arrive. If you prefer, you can go to any member library to get what you want and return the materials to your library. You can renew all but new books for another 28 days online.
Do New Yorkers know that anyone who lives, works, or attends school in New York State is eligible for a New York Public Library card?
America’s glory is its public libraries. After a lifetime of being shocked how many intelligent, educated people don’t use their libraries, I am absolutely certain that many of my readers have learned something they didn’t know. I am always delighted to answer questions about public libraries. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask your questions in the comments.