If you really want to irritate Marti Fiske, bring up Marian the Librarian. Marian was the prim and proper River City librarian with sensible shoes from “The Music Man.” Or just sidle up to someone at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston, Vermont, where Fiske is the director, and bring your finger to your lips and go “Shush!” The only thing Fiske might hate more than the stereotypes we have of librarians is the stereotypes we have of libraries themselves.
“The library today is not your old mausoleum of silence and dusty classics,” she says. “Libraries are not the stuffy worlds some people recall from their childhood.”
Whenever I visit a library, the two things that strike are:
1) The prevalence of new technologies and the role that libraries play in our digital future.
2) The crowds. Every time librarians are showing me their world, whether I am in Worcester, Massachusetts or Seattle, Washington, the place has been packed.
I mention this because this is National Library Week and it is worth dispelling a couple of myths.
First of all, the library is not the blacksmith shop of the twenty-first century. As Fiske will tell you, folks of all generations come there to use – and learn – the latest technologies.
Second, people still use the library. Lots of people. Toddlers. Teenagers. Students. Grownups. Senior citizens. People still depend on the library. The reality is that in most places, library usage is either stable or up. Computer use and what librarians call “off-site services” – daycares, bookmobiles, and senior centers – are skyrocketing.
So, if you haven’t visited your local library lately, this week is as good a time as any to pop in. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And, I promise, no one is going to shush you.
(Chris Bohjalian is the author of 16 books. His novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” was published this week in paperback. His new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives in July.)