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Madison Monday

Madison Monday: Our lovely library

By May 16, 20118 Comments

One of the very first posts I wrote on this blog was about rediscovering libraries and reading, so it feels kind of like coming full circle to be writing about our local library again. Much of what I have to say, I said in that original post, only, looking back, not quite as well. Here’s to some progress in blogging style.

Libraries have always been some of my favorite places because they represent on a small scale the infinitude of books and reading. When I re-entered our local library, the Madison Jefferson County Public Library, I remembered how exciting it was to think that were so many books in the world. The library represents the smallest portion of them, but still more than I’d ever be able to read. When I first started blogging, my biggest problem was finding the good books (which means the ones I wanted to read) among that plenitude.

There’s been a library of some sorts in Madison since 1816. Our library’s been at it’s current location since 1930, though the building itself looked very different back then. A major rennovation in 1967 gave us the building we have now, which looks very nice and library-ish. Just recently, a Hanover branch of the library opened in a former bank building right next to the college.

As I’ve become more of a local library regular, I discover new ways to use the library. I remember a few years ago I caught the end of a segment on Oprah where they were helping a family economize and save money. One of the suggestions was that they rent movies from the library rather than Blockbuster or somewhere else. I remember the woman’s astonishment that you could get movies from the local library–for free! Well, I wasn’t that naive, but there are quite a few library uses that hadn’t really occurred to me before.

The library has a nice supply of knitting books with patterns which I regularly peruse. This is obviously cheaper than buying a lot of pattern books. There are big song books for fiddle songs. And cd’s, including a great collection of old-time songs collected by the Smithsonian institute. We found a great Putamayo collection of music from New Orleans, so it’s a great, cheap way to explore new music. Recently, my fiddle teacher told me there’s a video of Mark O’Connor’s fiddle camp, so I can get a taste for what that might be like.

The old library building

The Madison public library also has free programs for folks…a plant exchange, belly dancing lessons, learning how to quilt. And of course, in a town as historic as ours, an archive of old photos and resources for those doing geneaological work. As an academic, I knew that the library at my college could do interlibrary loan, but was happy to find that our public library will, as well. I won’t claim to have an incredibly exotic tastes in books, but I will say that whenever I have come across a book which the library did not have, and could not get for me from another library, they bought the book instead, and that is just delightful.

Like a lot of folks, I also like to check out the magazines. After I drop my stepdaughter off at tae kwon do, I often hang out at the library and browse the writing magazines. It was one afternoon when I’d been jotting down various resources from a writing magazine and was getting ready to pick up my stepdaughter that I was reminded of another beauty of libraries. As I was gathering my stuff, I had the vague sense, perhaps from hanging out excessively in coffee shops or bookstores, that I should buy something before I left. Especially in Madison, I probably could hang out in a coffee shop for hours without buying anything; the people there know me and know that my husband alone could probably keep the coffee shop in business. But I feel a definite sense that I should make myself a paying customer; I feel obligated to buy something.

And then I remembered that I don’t have to buy anything at the library. That’s the whole point. In fact, no one has to buy anything. So I can afford to pay for the cappuccino that allows me to hang out for hours, but if you can’t, there’s always the library. You don’t have to check out a book, or use a computer, or do anything. You can just be there. It’s a public space. The library belongs to the people.

In the Madison Jefferson County Public Library, you see this at the computer stations, which are almost always fully occupied. It’s hard for many of us middle class folks (let alone bloggers) to imagine that some people don’t have computers or internet access at home, but for those who don’t, there’s always the library.

When I lived in Bloomington, there was a fairly large homeless population, and the library was a refuge for many of them. I know some folks might not want homeless people in their library, but I can’t help but think to myself, “Well then, where should they be?” If I didn’t have a home, I’d be in the library as much as possible. We’re a society with a dearth of really public places where people can go without the threat of being kicked out. Is a shopping mall a public place? It is if you’re upper or middle class, yes, but if you’re questionable, that’s what the security guard is for.

There’s no security guard at our library, and as far as I can see, no need. Madison has its homeless population, though they’re far less visible than they were in Bloomington. But more than that, we have folks who need access to the internet, to help with their taxes, to magazines, to movies, and yes, to books. And sometimes just for a place to be, out of the heat or the cold, or with access to a water fountain and a bathroom.

I don’t know where it puts me on the political spectrum, but I think libraries are one of the ultimate achievements of civilization for all those reasons. Here we have collected some knowledge of the world, and here we have made it available to everyone for free. Use it or don’t, but as long as you have a way to get here, the library is there.


  • Barrie says:

    Like you, I LOVE the library! Thanks for joining in, Robyn, I got your link. 😉

  • This is a great post, Robyn. i've been musing over the importance of libraries in New England versus the attitude I experienced down south towards libraries…maybe this post will inspire me to pull my thoughts together!

    BTW, did you receive an email from me?

  • Robyn says:

    Thanks, Barrie. Glad to hear from another library lover.

    Emily, thanks. I want to hear about New England libraries versus Southern libraries. In fact, I'd like to hear more in general about what it's like for a Southerner living in New England in general. Sometimes I read books set in small New England towns and they sound vaguely Southern or Midwestern to me, but I don't know if I could pinpoint exactly how. Sometimes in their cliqueishness and sometimes in their connection to nature, whether it's fishing or farming. Anyway, no, I haven't recieved an e-mail from you. Did you send it to the blog (yahoo address) or my Hanover address?

  • BookBelle says:

    Love your library. It is very quaint and looks the perfect place to spend a quantity of time. I have access to several very old and cool libraries in my area. I'm in busy mode at this point and can't enjoy them now. I did spend a lot of time in them when my boys were little though. I remember visiting our most inner city library and seeing a sign that prohibited shaving in the bathrooms. I didn't get it at first and then I realized it was directed at the homeless. Ahh… shaving in the library bathroom,not something I thought about before.

  • Jo says:

    What a nice post! 🙂 I'm a librarian at a public library, and we're always trying to get the word out about all the things you can do/find at the library. Your library sounds like a nice place to visit.

  • Kelly says:

    When I lived/worked in the Boston area, I would sit and stare at the Boston Public Library and see the engraving above the front door that said “Free to All” and then, like now, it makes me weepy to think of how powerful (and revolutionary) that statement is. Libraries are one of the last, if not the last, completely egalitarian institutions.
    Of the Madison library, I spent the a huge part of my childhood there, growing up less than a block away – on hot summer days, the library was my refuge. I would sit in the magazine section and read for hours (I even remember sneaking a peek at the Burt Reynolds Cosmo centerfold). My mom got locked in there once, when she was a child and had to call home to get out.
    The homeless in public libraries is an interesting issue. While most are welcome, there are some issues that have come up, such as, um, odors that could (and did) clear a room and shady bathroom behavior (how blood got on the bathroom ceiling we never could figure out).
    I could ramble on more, but I'll stop.

  • Erika says:

    I just wanted to say how wonderful this post is! Libraries are so amazing. I liked what you said at the end. Libraries are one of the greatest ways for us to lift each other up and improve all our lives together – and they're free too.

  • Robyn says:

    Bookbelle, I can see where shaving would cause some problems for the person responsible for cleaning the library. Our library is not a huge one, but it's very humanly scaled.

    Jo, thanks, and keep up the good work.

    Kelly, that's funny that your mom got locked in there. I think when I was little I would have thought that was cool in the abstract. Probably not in reality. Still, there are worse places to get locked in.

    Erika, thanks. I think libraries are incredibly hopeful things.

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