I am an adult. Admittedly, adulthood has its perks, but as everyone over twenty will agree, the world of an adult includes disillusionment. So many delightful and charming arrangements, alive and well and taken for granted in the mind of a child, simply break down in the cold realities of the Real World. The map of a child’s imagination is full of happy landmarks of the way things should be--of course the hero wins, the orphans are adopted, evil is banished, and the enemies become friends. In the world of the adult, something that sounds like a fairy tale probably is one; most delightful and charming arrangements are just too good to be true. However, there is one delightful and charming arrangement that exists in both the Land of How Things Should Be and the Real World, something too good to be true but nonetheless real, and that true-life fairy tale is the library.
I have always loved public libraries. You walk in, nice library people point you to your favorite sections, you can choose any books you like to take home, and it's all for free. Hundreds and hundreds of volumes, delicious consumables of adventure, fantasy, information, and emotion, sit waiting on the shelves. Comfortable seating and good lighting abound. Anyone can come in, anyone can belong there, anyone can stay. The fascinating book covers, the comforting weight of thick hardback copies, the drawers of lightweight paperbacks, the slightly dusty, slightly spicy smell of countless paper pages together under one roof--it’s all my happy place. I still feel like a kid in a candy shop whenever I walk into the library.
One of the first things I did when I came to Rexburg in 1991 as a student of Ricks College was to locate the public library. I was missing my life back home and needed the familiar therapy of shelves and books and card catalogs. The Madison Library was a much smaller affair then, but it had the books and quiet I craved, and I was comforted. Years later, in 1999, I was surprised to find myself a more permanent resident of Rexburg when my husband took a job teaching at the soon-to-be four-year university, and again I sought out the Madison Public library, this time with three babies (and later a fourth) in tow. The library regularly saved my young-mother sanity. We checked out stacks of picture books to read every week, and the kids and I spent many hours in the children’s section; they would watch the fish in the fish tank and play the learning games on the computers, while I sat gratefully in a nearby arm chair and read novels and parenting magazines. We kept coming as the kids grew, and the library became one of our most important locations in town. Sometimes for fun, sometimes for activity kits, sometimes for homework, sometimes for bathrooms, sometimes for questions, sometimes for phone access, sometimes for internet access, and always for more books, we came to the library.
Another unbelievable yet real gift to us from the Madison Library is its programs. Free access to books and cozy corners in which to read them is amazing by itself, but the Madison Library also has book parties! Over the past twenty years, as our kids have grown up and we’ve grown old, we’ve been to them all. Charming storytimes for the toddlers, exciting bookclubs for mid-grade kids, cool book-themed gatherings for teens, and relaxing and interesting book discussions and clubs for adults make the Madison library a most happening place in town. The absolute highlight of our library fun for the year always comes in the summer, in the form of the famous summer reading program. Some wizard-librarian of annual and inexhaustible creativity puts together a wonderful plan for the whole family that includes exciting themes, appealing incentives and activities, and clever prizes, adding zest and purpose to our summer every year. And, as if that isn’t enough, faithful and determined adult readers who make it through 3000 pages or more can earn entry to the crowning event of the season--the adult summer reading party! My husband and I honestly look forward to it all year. This exclusive event is full of delicious food, free books, hilarious games and activities, impressive prizes, and the undeniable camaraderie of book-lovers getting together to do nothing else but celebrate reading. It is truly the stuff of fairy tales.
Everything else aside, I think my favorite thing about the Madison Library, and all public libraries, is this: their very existence means that we believe in intellectual freedom for all. For once, there is something that belongs to all of us that is simply there to make life, and society, better. We are lucky beneficiaries of something remarkable, something too good to be true but nonetheless real. There is at least one thing in Real Life that is just as it should be.
As technology progresses and more and more titles are available in digital form, the future of public, physical libraries is sometimes called into question. Well, not with this girl. I will always need my public library. For the past 30 years, I have loved coming to the library next to the Tabernacle, and I intend to keep doing it. Happy 100 years, Madison Public Library!