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On The Library

June 18, 2016

The Ancient Romans made scrolls available to patrons of their bathhouses. Circa 2000 BC, a man named Amit Anu served as the “Tabl Keeper”—or librarian—in the royal library at Ur. I still have my Middletown Public Library card, which I used to check out books 30 years ago. So it seems silly to be excited about the public library now. But I am.

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The Pflugerville Public Library feels like it was built last week. It’s clean. It feels new. The librarians put the books back where they belong when kids leave them out. The collection is pretty good. And, of course, it’s free. I don’t know why this seemed so strange when I was reminded of it. You just borrow books—as many as 20 at a time! They don’t even charge late fees anymore (I assume someone finally did the math and realized that spending time chasing someone down for a 40¢ fine doesn’t make sense financially). If you have a late book out, they just send you emails until you return it.

You basically check out books on the honor system—there are self-checkout desks all over the library. You scan your card, scan the books you want, then scan a little card that says “finish.” It spits out a receipt listing your checked out books, the date they’re due and the amount of money you’ve saved borrowing them vs. buying them. For someone like me, who habitually orders new hardcover books from Amazon, this was particularly convincing—I saved $107 in my first week.

In addition to an assortment of children’s books, I checked out John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries (which I would have eventually purchased for $17.08); Blood Brothers, about the relationship between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali; and Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens. This latter book is the one that most excites me about the library. I’ve had some of Hitchens’ books on my list for a while, but buying a 750-page book of essays on random topics, the kind of book I might pull from my shelf and read one or two essays a couple times a year, is hard to justify. A perfect library book.

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Hitchens is a brilliant writer. I read four of the essays—one on North Korea; one lamenting the lack of good fiction about Washington, DC; one about the misgiven beliefs of some of our most revered scientific thinkers (“It may not be until we get to Albert Einstein that we find a true scientist who is also a sane and lucid person with a genial humanism as part of his world outlook—and even Einstein was soft on Stalin and the Soviet Union.”); and one on Benazir Bhutto. Just that smattering makes me wonder how a man can know so much about so many things. His thinking is lucid, his writing tight. Nonetheless, I’m ready to return the book to the shelf. Not my limited bookshelf in this summer rental, but my other bookshelf. The one at the library, where I have shelf after shelf in room after room.

Beyond this, I can listen to audiobooks for free through their app. I just finished The Revenant by Michael Punke then hopped online and reserved the DVD of the movie. All for free! I may have to cut my audible.com subscription back to the one-book-a-month plan.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of a public library, but I thank him (or her). We’ve been in town now for a little over two weeks. I think we’ve been to the library six times. To check out books, to read, to attend a sing-a-long screening of Frozen and to see a live music sing-a-long (at the end of which the poor guy singing came up to me and thanked me for “being another dad in the place”). I’m going tomorrow to return this Hitchens book and maybe do some work. I’m also excited because they have the latter half of Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization series—books I would never buy for my own library. Monday night we’ll be back for kids’ craft night.

What an amazing place, this library!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ruth Phelps permalink
    June 22, 2016 2:04 pm

    Jimm,
    You Mom just sent me this to me. I loved it!!! It reminded me of the “Best Small Library in the U.S” that I visited in Haines, Alaska when I toured the Inside Passage of Alaska in 2009. The American Library Association had awarded that library the award in 2005. Even such a small library it had many technological services for it’s patrons that you mentioned in your article.
    I love the way your whole family makes use of it.
    Hope all is well with you and your family in your new community.
    Love and prayers, Ruth

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