Tuesday, February 2, 2010

There is no place like the library

My favorite place in Woodbury, as well as in any other communities I have lived in the US, is the local public library. There is just no other place that means so much to me as the library. There is just no other place that can be as magic as the library.

My love affair with library and books didn't start until I was in my twenties. I was definitely a late bloomer.

Growing up in China in the sixties and seventies during the Cultural Revolution, reading and libraries were not an important part of my life. My parents were just doing their best to survive every day. They didn't have extra money to buy books. I didn't have children's books at home. They didn't read stories to me as a child.

As far as I can remember, I never even used a public library in China. I think at that time the municipal library in my hometown Suzhou was open to only a limited number of adults who had special permissions to use it. I didn't read as a child and had not experienced the joy of reading and visiting a library.

I was a hard working student in school and had the good fortune to go to college in China.

When I came to the United States in 1991 after 9 years of studying German, I couldn't understand and speak English. I felt totally lost in this new world. I didn't know what to do with my life at that time.

Fortunately I lived within the walking distance to the public library in Madison, Wisconsin. I went to the library several times a week and checked out one or two bags full of books every time. I started with books at the preschool level. I would read a few dozens of children's books a day.

The more I read, the more I hungered for books and knowledge. The more I read, the better I became in the language.

Gradually I could read more difficult books. I remember reading all the books in the "From Sea to Shining Sea" and "America the Beautiful" series and learning everything about all the 50 states in the country. I still have my reading notes today. My reading served two purposes, to learn the English language and to learn about this new country.

After reading and learning for over a year, my English was improved and I could communicate in an understandable way.

I found a library page position at the Madison Public Library to check in books. I looked forward to my work. As books passed through my hands, I felt a sense of excitement again and again. "Wow, here is another interesting book I want to read!"

I found more and more interesting books to read that I wouldn't find on my own. In fact I didn't know what I wanted to read. My way of finding books to read was just to browse the book shelves. Now I had a better way to get to the interesting books.

Other library users served as my reader advisors. Every workday I took a bag of finished books to work and at the end of the day my empty bag was again filled with books to take home.

As a library user and a part-time library worker, I grew to love library and reading. I dreamed of becoming a professional librarian and working full-time in the library.

I went to the library school and got my master's in library science at the university of Wisconsin-Madison. My dream became a reality.

Library was my heaven during the difficult times in my life when I didn't know what to do and who I was. Library provided me books and knowledge, and nurtured my hungry and lonely soul.

Now library is where I work for a living, and library is where I visit frequently with my two children for adventures and enjoyment. Both of my kids got their own library card before they could read.

I am glad my kids visit library more often than McDonald's and they read more books than eat French fries. I am so grateful they can grow up with lots of books and view library as an essential part of their life.

As an immigrant, I have come to love my adopted country. For me, one of the best things of living in the US is the easy and free access to the public library and the wonderful services it provides to everyone regardless of age, background and social status. In the library, we are all equal and knowledge is freely available to everyone who desires it.

Having been a library user and librarian for over 10 years, now my life doesn't feel complete and fulfilled without reading and library. I believe passionately in the library and what it can do for people. I love my profession as a librarian.

Library can change life. It has definitely changed my life. It still helps me to learn, to grow and to live every day.

I can't imagine what my life would be and what I would be doing today if there wasn't a public library.

[Originally published in Woodbury Bulletin on 4/18/2007]

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