Jennifer from Wheat Ridge, lorado

Among my earliest memories is an evening visit to a Denver Public Library branch with my mother.  I remember walking out with an armful of picture books and a bookmark the librarian had given me.  My mother told me stories about her own girlhood visits to the library branch in the neighborhood where she grew up. We went to visit my grandparents and Mom drove us by that boarded up Carnegie library, just west of downtown Denver, pointing out the overgrown bushes she used to read under on hot summer days as a little girl.

Libraries have quietly played a big part in my life.  I took every opportunity to visit my grade school library, looking at picture books and, later, chapter books.  I spent lunch hours in the quiet of my middle school library, reading the newspaper and avoiding bullying adolescents.  As a teenager, I went to the public library next to my alternative high school nearly every morning before school, slowly reading my way through the 941s.  Up until college, I was not a good student but I was a prolific reader.  I credit the books I read (and my parents’ encouragement of reading) with giving me the vocabulary and general communication skills to compete in life.

What struck me, particularly about the public libraries I visited as a teen, was an air of possibility.  The library was a place where I could explore any idea I wished at my own pace.  Libraries were doors that swung open, using questions as my key.  The librarians did not bother me, they didn’t steer me toward particular topics or raise an eyebrow when I didn’t select age-appropriate materials.  They expanded my world by filling the holds and interlibrary loans I requested and offering their expertise when I requested assistance.  What they had on their shelves more than sparked my interest and the materials they brought in from other branches and library systems set my curiosity aflame.  I knew by age 16 that I wanted to be a librarian, to work in a place that encourages and rewards an inquisitive nature.  To me, libraries have been an invaluable resource for self-directed, life-long learning.

Libraries kept me in soda and burritos throughout college, supplementing my student loans with merit work-study jobs in the university library’s government documents and circulation departments.  By the time I started my graduate studies in library science, library work had ruined me for anything else.  With libraries making their holdings available online and librarians applying their organizational skills toward making sense of the expansive Internet, libraries have become more accessible than ever. Blessedly though, libraries remain physical spaces as well, places that invite us to visit, peruse, to sit down and read.

All libraries are wonderful, but public libraries hold a special place in my heart.  Seeing people of every ethnicity, economic level and age respectfully sharing the spaces, services and collections in the urban library where I work affirms for me the library’s role as a requisite for and a reflection of democracy.  For me libraries have been a destination, an inspiration and a way of life.  For all of us, they are core component of a free and equal society.