MEMORIES OF books, card catalogs, and hushing librarians come to mind when we recall the libraries of our childhood. We can almost smell that perfect mixture of paper, dust, and nostalgia. Those places full of books were safe havens for young readers, who felt a sense of wonder looking at books with exciting covers or reading stories that seemed out of this world. The books broadened our understanding of each other and the world around us and offered places to go without leaving home. As time passed and technology advanced, our libraries grew with us, but our connection to the libraries of our past survives.
America’s first public library opened in Boston in 1854, according to encyclopedia.com. Books had to be requested at the desk and then retrieved by the librarian; the public could not access the stacks or browse the shelves. In the early 1900s, however, libraries began to transition to open stacks, changing the role of the librarians from gatekeepers to research supporters.
Campaigns sent books and periodicals to American troops during World War I and II. The Library Service Act of 1956 continued the spread of literacy, education, and entertainment when it put the library’s services on wheels and made books available to rural communities and underserved areas.
As technology evolved, libraries grew to include much more than books and periodicals. Tape recordings, microfilm, and microfiche created searchable archives. Soon, books on tape and compact discs put our favorite books on the road again, this time in our vehicles and homes. Video cassettes took us to exotic lands, taught new skills and hobbies, and entertained us with movies at no charge.
As computers became a part of our everyday lives, libraries created computer labs and loaned time and internet access to their patrons, many experiencing technology for the first time. Classes on utilizing technology, both then and now, enabled users to make the most of their personal computers and devices offsite.
E-books burst onto the scene, and libraries again stepped up to give patrons access to the digital reading realm. Your library card allows you to check out books today and read them on your tablet, laptop, phone, or favorite e-reader.
Genealogists have long haunted the history rooms of local libraries, and today can access a literal world of information online through portals like the Tennessee Electronic Library. Students can use the site’s resources to prepare for tests, and history buffs can view the state’s photographic library containing a wealth of detailed information.
Most, if not all, area libraries now offer free public Wi-Fi, work areas, and meeting rooms. The hushings of our childhood memories are less likely to be heard, and in their place is the laughter and conversation of students deep in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) projects or adults collaborating on a project.
In the present economic times, our local libraries offer free resources that include something for every household, interest, and age group. Check them out. While you may not hear the dull clunk of the old card machine dating your return card, something old might just find you among the new. GN