I’ve been a reader since before I can remember. And, I have loved libraries just as long. As a child, I rode my bike to our local library tucked into the city hall on our town square. I’d spend hours digging through the stacks to find a pile of books to bring home. For a while when a neighbor girl worked there, I volunteered shelving books. One day I opened a fusty book to discover my dad’s name scribbled on the checkout card. After some brief calculations, I realized he had read the book when he was younger than I was.
College years were spent studying in university libraries. Besides their role as a place to research, libraries at that time represented respite from distractions and the only truly quiet spot to write papers.
But it wasn’t until I moved to a teeny town in the far northwest corner of Minnesota that the library became my connection to the outside world and to the strangers who were my new neighbors.
Shortly after I moved to town, I took a temporary job at the city filling in for the office manager who was on maternity leave. I had recently quit my first job out of college working with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Later that year I would be going to graduate school. Adjusting to the move was a challenge. I knew my in-laws, but few others. I wasn’t that excited about living in such a remote village. At that time, there was no internet, streaming services, or social media. It was lonely.
One of the frequent visitors at the city office was Jeanette, the librarian. She would trek into the basement of the city hall to use our copier. Jeanette and I talked while she made copies for the library. She was open, friendly, and interesting and she wore Birkenstocks. I instantly liked her. And so, I started to visit the library. The culture at the library was different than what I’d experienced before. There was no shushing. Everyone was welcome. There were overstuffed chairs and a well-worn leather sofa that served as a gathering spot and encouraged visitors to stay awhile. And there were foreign films on VHS, books on tape, and bestsellers, classics and soon-to-be discovered favorites crammed onto shelves. I met interesting characters and made friends. One woman who had lived in Africa and ran the New York Marathon at age 50 taught me to knit. I joked with old men about politics. Jeanette became my closest friend, even though she was older than my parents and I was younger than all her 6 kids. During graduate school, I requested journal articles and books for my research, making it possible to work from a remote location. Not long after, I joined the library board and eventually became the chair, which I still am.
Years passed and after starting a campaign to remodel, we secured funding to expand the space. Later, I introduced my own book-loving kids to the library.
My commitment to the library is as strong as ever. I have volunteered with countless tasks — fundraisers, book sales, shelving books, writing grants, attending city council or county board meetings to ask for funding, reading at story hour – you name it. Today like most libraries, there are public computers, WIFI, digital books and magazines, and the library offers all kinds of programming, like theater, Flamenco dance classes, jewelry making, or presentations about craft beer. We’ve hosted more Minnesota authors than I can recall, including me after my own book was published.
The library has changed a lot, but it’s still THE welcoming spot in Hallock. When I meet newcomers, I ask if they’ve checked out the library. It’s where young kids flock to story hour or retirees camp out and exchange stories or read the newspaper. It’s where you can discover your new favorite author. It’s also where you can meet your best friend or find your place in an uncertain world.