The Library, My Safe Place — Guest Post
A Lifelong Love of Reading
The Racine Public Library is celebrating 125 years. I think we can all agree what a thrilling accomplishment that is. It has changed so much in those years, and so has the way I’ve used the library throughout my life. While I no longer look through a card catalog to find the Dewey Decimal number of the book I’m searching for, one thing that has never changed is how much I love the library and how big an impact it has on my life.
I remember my mother bringing me to the library when I was a child. What an adventure those trips were to me. I devoured the “Babysitters Club” series and felt so grown up when I upgraded to “Sweet Valley High.” I loved the horror of R.L. Stine and the comedy of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic books. But my all-time favorite was a well-worn, yellow-cover copy of “Matilda.”
Sometimes we made special trips to the Bookmobile. What an amazing marvel, to have a library on wheels show up down the street! It was a nostalgic and proud moment when I toured the current Bookmobile with my nephew for his first time. There he found a few new series that have completely taken over his life. A love for reading runs deep in my family.
A Safe Haven at the Library
As an adult, that love of reading has never changed. But I have, and so has the way I use the library. I think that sometimes the library gets a bum rap. But for me, and a lot of others, it is a safe haven. I suffer from a disability called agoraphobia. It is defined as “a fear of places and situations that may cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment.” The library has become my safe place. A place that I never fear, always get the help I need, and truly enjoy. While I rarely browse the stacks anymore, the library offers helpful and useful services that accommodate my disability to make checking out books easier for me. And I’d like to share some of my favorite tools with you.
Accessible Book Browsing
When I get recommended a book to read, I get on my phone’s internet browser and log into the library’s online SHARE catalog. Think of it like a card catalog for the digital world. Here I can place holds on any book or DVD I desire, and the library staff will retrieve that item for me.
If it’s not available in Racine, the library staff will transfer it in from another library through interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan allows lots of city libraries to work together to offer us a larger and more varied collection to choose from.
If I can’t find the book or DVD in the SHARE catalog, or maybe it hasn’t been released yet, I fill out a purchase request form (the link to the form can be found at the bottom of the SHARE catalog pages). The library staff encourages its patrons to make requests. Every January when my online book clubs announce the year of monthly reads, the library receives tons of request forms from me, and they always deliver.
When my holds become available, the library staff places them on bookshelves in the lobby for easy access and send me an email to let me know my items are ready for pickup. If I choose that I’m not up for dealing with people that day, there are self-checkout stations.
Breaking Down Technological Barriers
Requesting items, interlibrary loans, and placing holds are just some of the services the library offers to help overcome fears associated with my disability. Those are things I can do from the comfort of my couch. With disability come a lot of paperwork. I am low income and cannot afford things like a computer. The library offers computer access and free internet. I can print out forms I need to fill out, make copies, and use a fax machine to send paperwork to government agencies. This is just a small example of available services the library offers that I use in my everyday life. For an extensive list of available services, please check out the library’s website, or sign up for the monthly newsletter.
A Book Sale for a Book Lover
One feature of the library that I never miss is a visit to the Friends of the Library used book sale room located off the lobby. It’s not limited to books. There are magazines, DVDs, audiobooks, puzzles, and sometimes a fun craft to do.
Twice a year the Friends of the Library have a large used book sale. I plan my year around these sales as any true book lover would do. There are hundreds of gently used items for very low prices. But get there early, because there is always a line, and you’ll find me at the front of it. I revel at being the first person through the doors and racing the other patrons to the best books. And when I walk out with bags or boxes full of books, I feel like a champion. Adding those books to my home library gives me a dopamine high that leaves me smiling for days. I am a proud member of the Friends of the Library.
A Welcoming Community at the Library
And I truly feel like a friend of the library. When I walk through the front doors, the staff smile and call out a hearty, “Hello, Stephanie!” They stop for a chat and answer any questions I have. They help when I have problems, like learning to fax something in a digital world. And they don’t laugh when I ask for a certificate for completing their Summer Reading Challenges (the certificates are usually for the kids). They proudly laminate me one and offer their congratulations.
The library staff is a family, and they have embraced me. Never have I felt that more than during the pandemic. When the entire world shut down, the library found a way to continue to offer its services to the community. While everyone was social distancing, our bonds grew closer over the curbside pickup table. They put their health on the line to offer us books and DVDs to distract us from the outside world. They cared, and for that I am very appreciative.
I hope that they realize just how much they have impacted my life. I live my life in a constant state of fear, except for the time I spend at the library. Once a week, rain or shine, I travel downtown to a place that holds some of my most treasured memories. A place that has fueled my love of reading. A place that helps when I’m in need. A place that accommodates my disability. A place that fills me with joy. My safe place – the Racine Public Library. Congratulations on 125 years!
— Stephanie Ziegler
Racine Public Library Patron